Hopping on the phone last Saturday morning, Margaret Lee was enjoying a bit of welcome downtime between the installation of two windows at our Downtown Flagship and four windows uptown at Madison Avenue. “It’s been so nice getting my hands dirty, and it really brought me back to my sculpture days in a way that I wasn’t expecting,” she told us, admitting that the three weeks spent at our visual production studio building out the windows with team Barneys were much more exhausting than anticipated. “It became clear to me that the success of these windows was actually putting art in them, not just replicating things. The end result is not a scenic version of my art; the attention to detail is really there.”
“Margaret is one of the most intelligent, insightful artists,” Dennis Freedman told The Window. “She’s very interested in objects and environments and has explored those ideas through her installation work. Her own practice has many parallels to the world of luxury consumerism. I knew she had the right sensibility to collaborate on a project like this.” Freedman and Lee worked closely with the rest of the Barneys visual team on the concepts and execution of the windows.
Lee took inspiration from Freedman, an avid art collector, and their mutual love of furniture for her 2015 show,“Closer to Right Than Wrong/ Closer to Wrong Than Right.” “It’s less about what he collects, though it’s amazing, and more about this idea of how he arranges them—or actually doesn’t arrange them,” said Lee, who’s interested in the idea of the collector and the way in which people covet.
She built on this concept of desire and consumption when embarking on the six windows for Barneys. “I’m very interested in the consumer’s mind and what creates desire. Working with a store like Barneys is kind of an ideal venue for showcasing these ideas,” she explained, adding that her ideas are indirect reflections of the Barneys customer and New Yorkers in general.
The windows feature domestic scenes—such as kitchens, a bathroom, and a baby’s room—and use surrealism to humorously portray the ideas of sterility and idiosyncrasy at odds with each other. “We live in a world where you walk into someone’s house and there’s nothing out of place. It’s a very New York thing to have even your personal space be so curated—a lot of effort goes into controlling how people see you,” says Lee, who is interested in how people control their desires. “A lot of my work, and therefore these windows, is about when the balance shifts, and no matter how hard you try to make things perfect, your humanness shines through.” In other words, as much as you strive for that sterile, orderly apartment, you can take it too far and you can’t fight your own peculiarities—like having a fridge stocked with only watermelons and a handbag or matching your couch to your gold Margiela sneakers.
“It all comes down to conveying some sort of truth, whether it be in a fashion spread or a store window. Each of the Barneys windows inhabits a different sensibility all within a New York story,” said Lee, adding that humor is an important part of the equation. Freedman agreed, saying, “Humor and irony are indeed a very effective ways to tell the truth.”
From the watermelons that Margaret handcrafted and painted, to the chrome and stainless steel backdrops built out by the Barneys visual team, and of course, the luxurious product showcased in the spaces—each window is a show of impeccable craftsmanship and beauty, even before extracting the layers of meaning. “The result of these collaborations is never something the artist would do on their own and never something Barneys would do on its own,” says Freedman. “It’s always something that is born from the process of collaborating, and that’s what is so important to Barneys. And, personally, I love that element of surprise.”
Both the Madison Avenue and Downtown windows will be on display until June 26, 2016. The windows feature audio by vocalist and performer Helga Davis.