Steampunk and the New Victorians

Tintype by David Sokosh
Tintype by David Sokosh

Apparently there’s a fashion, decorating or even cultural movement out there called steam punk, although its existence has up until this point been lost on me. It was explained to me that people into steampunk often dress in old styles and use old objects in new ways. I’m picturing a lamp made from a blender, but that may be way off. Wikipedia has an entry on Steampunk, and apparently it’s been around since the 1980s, in books anyway. Wikipedia says: Steampunk is often associated with cyberpunk and shares a similar fanbase and theme of rebellion, but developed as a separate movement (though both have considerable influence on each other). Apart from time period and level of technological development, the main difference between cyberpunk and steampunk is that steampunk settings usually tend to be less obviously dystopian than cyberpunk, or lack dystopian elements entirely.

Various modern utilitarian objects have been modded by individual artisans into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical “steampunk” style, and a number of visual and musical artists have been described as steampunk.

Popular style movements may be growing out of steampunk. Take the existence of this cedar and brass ipod case as evidence.  Taxidermy also seems to be popular with this crowd. A recent New York Times Article, The New Antiquarians, touched on the subject.

Further evidence it may have gone mainstream is the cover of the New York Times Style Section November 12, This Just in From the 1890s.  Yes, this fashion may be called “retro,” and it doesn’t come across as costumish. The Times says: As with home design, where curio cases, taxidermy and other stylish clutter of the Victorian era have been taken up by young hipsters, many of today’s popular men’s styles have their roots in the late 19th century.

Photographer David Sokosh used a 19th century tintype process to produce the fashion shots for the Times style feature, and they are on display and for sale at MDH Fine Arts at 233 West 19th Street in Manhattan.

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage. When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city. With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s. The result will be a book with a video component. We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url artafterx.com will point to the latest updates on this weblog.

2 comments

Within the younger population there have always been various subcultures who appreciate and embrace references to earlier forms. Perhaps a response to our over-reliance on technology and trend-following? Regardless, this influence is played out in fashion, as demonstrated by the couture of Alexander McQueen for example, as well as in home decor as discussed in The Antiquarian article in the NY Times. There are pockets of younger consumers embracing “antique aesthetics” here and there. Thank goodness for this group – as they may emerge to become the next generation of antique collector. We must learn to court them if the retail trade wishes to remain a viable one.

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