All the exhibits are unique objects. The "sculpture dresses" are intended to be wearable, although with some designs one wonders how this could be practical. The "sculptures" in the final section of the show are not.
It's reasonable to assume that most visitors to this exhibition have been, and will be, women, and that most will be examining the goods through the prism of fashion, as in: Could I/Would I wear that? Would it make me look glamorous? Whether the dresses can be considered art in the purest sense would seem to be a secondary concern.
Art is the only feasible criterion for me, as well as the most provocative. So art was the measuring stick I carried through the installation, which is dazzling in its overall impact.
As previously reported here, the Capucci exhibition is one of the two most exciting museum presentations in the city, the other being the Sheila Hicks retrospective, also fiber, at the Institute of Contemporary Art.
Flamboyantly energetic color - singly and in combination - may be Capucci's most effective instrument, and the installation exploits it fully. The dresses are displayed under bright lights within an all-black environment.
The striking juxtapositions amplify contrasts of form as well as color, projecting boldness and power rather than subtlety and grace.
Boldness is Capucci's foundation. Even his earliest designs, such as Calla Dress and Nine Dresses - one sculpted to suggest its eponymous flower, the other layered like a stack of pancakes - display it. With each, the form holds the eye; neither needs a warm body to animate it.
In fact, the "sculpture dresses" don't so much follow the line of the body as ignore or camouflage it. They establish their own vigorous, independent line, which is how they become sculptural.
Through the 1950s, '60s, and early '70s, Capucci is thinking mainly as a couturier who favors sculptural embellishments - sleek, fluid silhouettes accented at the collar, waist, and sleeves with natural materials such as bamboo, polished stones, woven straw, and coiled brass wire that flares into space.
The "sculpture dress" emerges fully in the 1980s as Capucci's forms become more voluminous and baroque, typified by a 1982 dress in three colors in which the skirt is shaped like the body of a cello. Another dress is sectioned like a classical Greek column; what appears to be a drumlike base is actually the skirt.
In many such dresses, Capucci sets up dramatic contrasts and dislocations between simplicity and efflorescence. Sometimes the explosion of pleats, ruffles, folds, and layered panels sits on top of a relatively plain skirt, and sometimes the skirt carries the expressive load.
There's usually considerable formal interplay going on as well - spatial inversions, fabric gathered in bunches, with so many vibrant colors juxtaposed that the dresses almost sear one's retinas.
Capucci's desire to create what he calls an "assault" of sensory experience comes to pass as the designs become increasingly extravagant and florid. I reached a point near the end of the installation where I had to close my eyes for a few minutes to restore their ability to process color.
At this point, though, I was mainly assessing forms, because I wanted to determine whether they could assert themselves sculpturally without regard to their identity as clothing.
In the final, "sculpture" section, they did so easily, but by then it was obvious that nothing I was looking at could be imagined as a functional garment. Certainly this was true of the regal piece titled Corde, an elemental flask form embroidered with gold thread and studded with bits of turquoise.
Capucci settles the question: Wearable art is a plausible concept. He has transformed the dress out of function just as ceramic artists have done with the teapot and furniture-makers and architects with the chair.
He has achieved this by infusing the dress form with energy, emotion, and even hints of narrative. Even for dyspeptic males, he has made the dress exciting.
Remembering Sam Green. Perhaps the most exciting event ever held at the Institute of Contemporary Art happened on Oct. 8, 1965, when the ICA opened Andy Warhol's first museum exhibition.
The event was orchestrated by the gallery's young director, Samuel Adams Green, with such imaginative showmanship that it unexpectedly became a frantic mob scene.
Warhol and Edie Sedgwick, one of the more glamorous members of his entourage, had to escape the madding crowd by climbing up to the roof of the gallery building and down a fire escape.
Two events coincidentally recall this landmark bash. The first is Green's death at 70 early last month; the second is a small exhibition in the ICA's projects space dedicated to Green and devoted to the legendary Warhol opening.
Green became the ICA's first full-time director in his mid-20s, even though his only previous art experience was three semesters at the Rhode Island School of Design and two years working at a New York gallery. He came to the ICA in 1964, and ran the institution for three years.
After leaving Philadelphia, he spliced together a varied career that included cultural adviser to New York Mayor John V. Lindsay and private art consultant. Most recently, he founded and ran the Landmarks Foundation, which works to preserve important cultural monuments worldwide.
The ICA exhibition, "That's How We Escaped: Reflections on Warhol," was organized by 12 University of Pennsylvania students enrolled in a yearlong seminar on contemporary art and curating.
Among the objects on view are a Campbell's Soup can signed by Warhol, an S&H Green Stamps blouse, photos of the opening and related archival material, and an installation that recalls the way the artist and his entourage escaped the crowd.
Art: Fashion Into Art
"Roberto Capucci: Art Into Fashion" continues at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 26th Street and the Parkway, through June 5. Exhibition hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 11 to 8:45 Fridays, and 10 to 5 Saturdays and Sundays.
Admission by special ticket is $22 general, $20 for visitors 65 and older, $16 for students with ID and visitors 13 to 18, and $7 for visitors 5 through 12. Tickets can be purchased on the museum website or by calling 215-235-7469. Information: 215-763-8100, or www.philamuseum.org.
"That's How We Escaped: Reflections on Warhol" continues at the Institute of Contemporary Art, 36th and Sansom Streets, through Aug. 7. Hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, 11 to 6 Thursdays and Fridays, and 11 to 5 Saturdays and Sundays. Free. Information: 215-898-7108 or www.icaphila.org.
Contact contributing art critic Edward J. Sozanski at 215-854-5595 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/edwardsozanski.