Empty Dress

  • Gotscho, Untitled, 1992. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Urbi et Orbi, Paris.

  • Annette Messager, Histoire des Petites Effigies, 1990. Courtesy of the artist, Josh Baer Gallery, New York, and Galerie Crousel-Robelin, Paris.

  • Zizi Raymond, Untitled, 1992. Collection of Barbara and David Hancock.

  • Leslie Fry, Lips Speaking Together, 1992. Courtesy of the artist.

Curated by Nina Felshin

Empty Dress: Clothing as Surrogate in Recent Art focuses on the use of clothing in art as a means of investigating issues of cultural and sexual difference, in particular the construction of gender including gender stereotypes, the instability of gendered identity, and the fluidity of gender boundaries.


The clothing we wear serves as a form of non-verbal communication to the people with whom we interact. Clothing can identify gender, beliefs, lifestyles, occupations, and anything else one wishes to announce about oneself. As long as clothing is worn, though, the only information communicated will be about the wearer. Only when we are completely denuded, when clothing is examined in an abstract sense, can we come to understand its unique language. What form conveys male as opposed to female? What makes a certain style of cut, fabric, and colors straight or gay? Empty Dress analyzes clothing as a form irrespective of a specific wearer, and reveals the depth of personal politics in the way we dress.


Some of the artists in the exhibition use the ‘empty dress’ as a narrative clue or memento mori, exploring clothing as a repository of emotion, dreams, anxiety, desire, and ethos. Others use articles of clothing in photos, video, and sculpture as a surrogate for the human body in order to examine their meaning and to underscore the significance of the absent body. The common thread in Empty Dress is the role that clothing plays in the construction of identity. Removal of the body calls attention to the artifice of clothes and makes their implicit codes more accessible to interpretation. The body’s absence also demands that we read between the lines, examining the meaning of what is not represented – examining the conditions of representation itself. The fabric of each work is woven of many threads. “Everything is to be disentangled, nothing deciphered.”


Accompanying this exhibition is the catalogue, “Empty Dress: Clothing as Surrogate in Recent Art,” edited by Nina Felshin. Please click here or visit our shop for more information.



Nina Felshin

Nina Felshin, formerly a curator at Wesleyan University’s Zilkha Gallery, The Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnnati and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC,  is an independent curator, writer, and activist.  She is the editor of But Is It Art?: The Spirit of Art as Activism and the author of numerous articles and catalog essays. Felshin’s past exhibitions include, in addition to the five she curated for ICI,  Black and Blue: Examining Police Violence; Disasters of War: From Goya to Golub; Global Warning: Artists and Climate Change; and Framing and Being Framed: The Uses of Documentary Photography.



touring schedule

Selby Gallery, Ringling School of Art and Design
Sarasota, FL, United States
August 14, 1995 - September 23, 1995

The Gallery/Stratford
Stratford, Ontario, Canada
April 14, 1995 - May 14, 1995

MacKenzie Art Gallery
Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
August 19, 1994 - October 30, 1994

Virginia Beach Center for the Arts
Virginia Beach, VA, United States
January 9, 1994 - February 20, 1994

University Gallery, University of North Texas
Denton, TX, United States
October 2, 1991 - November 16, 1991

Neuberger Museum, State University of New York, Purchase
Purchase, NY, New York
October 14, 1990 - January 6, 1991

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