‘Bagism’ Exhibition Merges Chinese Contemporary Art With 400 Years of Designer Handbags

The intersection of art and fashion is no stranger to China’s malls, but never before has Shanghai’s K11 Art Mall married the two.

In Bagism, a name first coined by John Lennon and Yoko Ono as part of their peace campaign in the 1960s, shoppers can tour handbag designs through the decades, curated into categories ranging from history, to feminism, fashion, and celebrity. French curator Elisabeth Azoulay teamed up with emerging Chinese curator Penny Liu and Modern Weekly editorial director Shaway Yeh to bring Chinese consumers an educational experience in bags using accessories on loan from personal collections and institutions.

The exhibition present 15 Chinese contemporary artists’ new creations and showcases nine themes of desire, information, life/track, gender, ready-made product, tradition, advertisement, social participation and consumerism. A total of 300 handbags were amassed for the exhibit, including those that have graced the arms of designers, artists, celebrities, and socialites including the likes of Jane Birkin, Carina Lau, Grace Kelly and Yves Saint Laurent.

Visitors will surely recognize brand names from Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Hermès, but are likely to walk away with a better understanding of how the handbag came to be what it is today. Backstories include how the iconic Chanel 2.55 became the first to introduce the shoulder strap in the 1950’s, as well as the story behind how Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas came to create the Birkin bag.

The fifteen Chinese contemporary artists’ murals and paintings are represented alongside the collection, including works by Shanghai-based painter Zhang Enli. Zhang painted on a Birkin bag for the exhibition, which will be auctioned off with Christie’s soon after Bagism ends.

Shanghai-based contemporary artist Zhang Enli’s painted Birkin bag will be auctioned off for charity after the event.

Through this exhibition, people will get inspired to know more and talk more about the concept of art and the history of fashion design, see the intrinsic relationship between the two, and learn how both are inspiring Chinese contemporary artists and society. This blending of high-end fashion and art has been taking place all over China at a fast rate, with luxury brands often sponsoring art exhibitions or finding other ways of collaborating to attract a wider VIP market and “transcend commercialism”.

In addition to the exhibition, the mall is extending its efforts to provide shoppers with an experience that brings together fashion and art through family-friendly workshops where participants can design, draw, and sculpt their own bags to take home.

It’s becoming increasingly common for shopping malls all over the world to use art exhibitions to bring an experiential dimension to their shopping space to attract customers. Once Bagism is over in Shanghai, the exhibition is set to go on tour in the mainland in the coming 2017.