Walking into the Stephen Sprouse exhibition at Deitch Projects is a lot like going shopping—mannequins stand throughout the space, and the gallery’s usual reverent silence is broken by The Dandy Warhols and David Bowie on the sound system. The retrospective celebrates Sprouse, who, in the 1980s, played an influential role mixing rock ‘n’ roll aesthetics with fashion and the bright color palette of Andy Warhol. All of his greatest hits are here: dresses based on Keith Haring paintings or emblazoned with the visage of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and a wall bearing his many Polaroids of friends (like Debbie Harry—they lived in the same building on the Bowery in the 1970s). The show also includes his rarely seen paintings of loudspeakers, Patty Hearst news clippings and an image of a crucified Iggy Pop.
Divided into three floors, the exhibit features video as well: a television on the mezzanine plays footage of Sprouse’s infamous 1988 fashion show, in which his models paraded down the runway en masse, fake blood dripping from their mouths. That piece is starkly juxtaposed with a Pop Art painting of Sid Vicious with his pants down. But even if such self-conscious paintings add up to little more than Johnny Rotten on Jolly Ranchers, the clothes still matter—even 25 years after the fact. The designer didn’t fall out of the gutter and into Vogue: Sprouse served as Halston’s right-hand man for years before following his heart downtown, eventually opening a store at 99 Wooster—just up the street from the Deitch show—long before art-world money made it fashionable. His commitment to excellence is reflected in the clothes’ production, relying as he did on Agnona, the Italian luxury cashmere manufacturer, for quality control. In and out of the public eye through the ‘90s, he became the fashion director for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, and in 2001, he collaborated with Marc Jacobs for a line of immediately classic Louis Vuitton bags, which are also on display. Now, five years after his death, and with Fashion Week fast approaching, Wooster Street still remains home to one sublime supermarket.
The exhibit runs through February 28, 2009.