Celebrating 20 years helming her family’s company, Angela Missoni and avant-garde cinema legend Jonas Mekas explore the concept of home.
Last month, Missoni debuted the third installment of their Surface Conversion Project, an unexpected and beautiful merging of art and commerce, modern art and luxury fashion. The first exhibition featured Servane Mary, known for her reconfigurations of press images of women from the ‘40s to the ‘70s. The second installment last spring was curated by Raphael Castoriano, founder of art-meets-sugar startup Kreemart. Now, the space has taken on the feel of an old cinema — flickering with birth and recollection — created by Jonas Mekas, the 94-year-old filmmaker, poet, and artist often referred to as the father of American avant-garde cinema.
The exhibition seems a bit like kismet. It was Angela Missoni’s 20th anniversary heading her family’s business, and, Missoni tells COOLS, Mekas had the idea for his botanically inspired works 20 years ago. The space is all warm oranges, Indian paintbrush reds, deep purples and sky blues. It’s as close as a luxury store on Madison Avenue gets to feeling like home — and home, as it turns out, is a defining part of the show. The inspiration for the exhibition was based on a journal entry Mekas made in 1997:
“Last night I had an ecstatic dream.
Suddenly before my eyes appeared fields and fields of wild flowers. They were passing by my eyes. Field after field, the meadows full of flowers in the most exquisite colors: blue, yellow, red, purple and they were all so real. I could almost smell them, like in my childhood.
I told this dream to Auguste this morning. So he said, you know, this dream tells you that in your previous life you were a bee. Yes, I said, it must be so. I always liked flowers, I always gathered them as a child for the healing woman of my village. She trusted only me. I knew all the flowers of our village and the neighboring villages too. So you may be right. I always had a very personal relationship with flowers.”
The exhibition features a dual-screen video installation visible to passersby from the store’s front windows, with flowers that flicker and become more vivid as the night goes on. In a screening room on the second floor, a special version of Mekas’ Walden, his film manifesto in diary form, recomposes and splits the original version onto two screens. Missoni says she and Mekas connected through a close mutual friend when he did an exhibition in Italy a few years ago. They bonded over their similar backgrounds, both having refugee fathers. Missoni gets openly emotional when she talks about her father and what home means to her.
“My father was a refugee in 1946, after the war,” she explains. “He had an Italian passport in what today you would call Croatia. He was born and raised in Ragusa, today called Dubrovnik. He left for the war fighting in Egypt, and when he came back his city was not there anymore. His family was all refugees and they had to start over again. That feeling of home…my father was someone who didn’t complain and always looked forward. People who would leave their country to go to work, they might dream about their country. I don’t have a place to dream about because it was razed down by bombs.”
Originally from Lithuania, Mekas found refuge in the U.S. with his brother after being held at a concentration camp in Elmshorn, Germany in 1944 for eight months. Both Mekas and Missoni found kindred spirits in each other, an essence Missoni searches for the English translation of the Italian phrase she has in mind. She says the phrase in Italian to a friend nearby her at the opening. He searches Google translate and finds the phrase “elective affinities.” It’s a phrase that may not have a specific translation in English but most certainly describes a feeling mutually understood.
“When you’re very close, and you have a very special relationship on a high spiritual level,” Missoni says of Mekas. “Sometimes you meet somebody, and you know you are kind of connected. You understand each other immediately.”
Blue, Yellow, Red, Purple is on view at 1009 Madison Avenue through January 31, 2018.