In the quiet of an art museum, a single onlooker stops in front of a painting and stares. What does he or she look at: The way the colors appear as the light hits the canvas? The complex elegance of the giant frame around the work?
Well, thanks to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s new project, you might encounter the same experience from the street. “Wear LACMA” will allow you to walk out of the museum with some of its best artwork printed onto high-end clothing.
A collaboration with fashion lines, including Libertine and Gregory Parkinson, will join the many artsy trinkets at the LACMA store beginning Oct. 5. The money from these sales will go straight to the museum, so even though you’re only buying a replica of a work, you’re helping keep the originals in their home.
Now art lovers can strut the streets wearing a classic portrait as part of their outfit. But what, or whom, exactly are they sporting?
One of the first creations to come from this collaboration features Thomas Lawrence’s Portrait of Arthur Atherley as an Etonian on Libertine T-shirts. Only 200 of these shirts will be made in total — 100 for each gender.
At its most basic, the work portrays a confident young man who just graduated from Eton College (if only our senior portraits matched the fanciness of 1791). Atherley faces the audience directly, posing with one hand holding his hat and the other casually on his hip. He obviously wears expensive clothing, and a seemingly turbulent sky serves as his backdrop, lending the work a dramatic aura rare in portraits.
The work not only helps show off an important art form — the portrait — it also serves to deliver a message about the art in LACMA: Though you might need to pay admission to get in, the museum’s artworks do not keep quiet.
Atherley’s gaze commands your attention and foreshadows his important future role as a three-term representative of Southampton in the British Parliament.
But even if a viewer saw the work without knowing Atherley’s history, much of his high class standing and potential would come across. The youthful figure appears confident and obviously takes his looks into consideration.
Lawrence depicts Atherley half in shadows, giving him an elusive, almost sinister aura. The tree on the right in the background gives a sense of distance but also makes Atherley look larger-than-life as he seems to tower over the tree and almost the rest of the landscape. The gloomy nature scene itself seems to hint at the coming of a storm — perhaps less reflective of the weather than of the commanding nature of Atherley himself.
Surely some art enthusiasts might view the T-shirts and other creations in a negative light, as they seem to put revered artworks on the same level as other common brands and logos on shirts. Maybe Atherley’s portrait most appropriately belongs in the usual museum setting than on a shirt that will undergo wear and tumble around in a laundry machine time and time again. Furthermore, and maybe most controversially, the image has been altered, displaying Atherley without the painting’s background.
But LACMA’s motive perhaps lies not in lowering the status of these works but in raising them in the minds of both the wearers and a larger audience — those who see the shirt on a passing stranger.
The T-shirt itself sets up Atherley as an intriguing fashion figure from another era while identifying Lawrence’s work as an important piece in the history of portraiture. The simplified design sans background sets Atherley up as a symbol of the direct communication between art and the viewer; even on a shirt Atherley commands the viewer’s attention. Fashionistas might wear him as the mini version of a great artwork or as an image showing the evolution of personal image and portraits from then to now.
For fashion lovers as well, the Atherley T-shirt proves a particularly fascinating look into the history of men’s fashion; one will show an appreciation for eleaborate fashion through that simplest of apparel — the white tee.
Ideally, these works will leave the museum and engage with the community in a larger sense, hopefully in a manner that will have someone asking where they can see the original.
LACMA will continue adding more designers to the project and more items will come to the store during the winter. Meanwhile, the artworks inside the museum wait patiently for another person to stand across from them — perhaps a new viewer — and take in their history and beauty.
Eva Recinos is a senior majoring in English. Her column “Two Cents A Piece” runs Tuesdays.