Consider the Pearl by Richard J. Goldstein

Designer Gigi Ferrante shares artist Arch Connelly’s style book and philosophy on art and life on the occasion of his exhibition at La MaMa Galleria.

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Forget the oyster, consider the pearl—dip-dyed, vintage, faux, unstrung and pooling. The ebb and flow of fabulous across sculptural Midwestern mesas and painted scenes on ply mimicking moiré, moiré mimicking ply, and back again, to be taken by the undertow of an Arch Connelly and never to surface again, never to surface from the surface. The tide is high of Arch Connelly’s work currently at La MaMa Galleria where the first comprehensive survey of his work has been curated since he died of AIDS 20 years ago.

“Ex-Angel of Light shines on NYC” would be the latest headline if the New York Post featured Connelly front and center. In 1991 when Artforum put Connelly’s art on their cover, a jock-strapped shoulder-padded stud stood strident in a field of jewels and pansies, a symbol of strength for so many that were withering with AIDS. Connelly’s own health would take a turn for the worse after that November issue hit the stands, on time but ever a moment too late. The fun was quite literally running out of the New York scene as The Fun Gallery, where Connelly was represented early in his career, began to close up shop.

Gigi Ferrante, the sister of Connelly’s late partner Ahbe Sulit, an artist in his own right, was right there with Connelly from his first days in New York. At the time, when Ferrante wasn’t at the Mudd Club she was with her brother and Connelly making pearl runs and experimenting how to dye and adhere them to surfaces. She relates bringing back “buckets of pearls” to Connelly’s 42nd Street studio whereMike BidloBrett De Palma, and Jane Dickson also had space. Her relationship with Connelly sparked her idea to create a denim dress completely covered in pearls. Reflecting on their time, she says, “It was this dream: You have to be walking in all pearl jewelery, just over the top and to be very free and not be restricted to any color—the mix, it’s always the mix.” Connelly kept a style book with Ferrante over which they would discuss and debate his fashion drawings, some of which she would actually create for him.

In this video Ferrante shares Connelly’s journal My Wardrobe.

Gigi Ferrante on Arch Connelly from BOMB Magazine on Vimeo.

Arch Connelly is showing at La MaMa Galleria until April 8, 2012.

Richard J. Goldstein is a painter and writer living in Brooklyn.