Iris Van Herpen: Sculpting the Senses Exhibition

Held at the Musée des Arts décoratifs, from 29 November 2023 to 28 April 2024, the exhibition Iris van Herpen: Sculpting the Senses pays tribute to one of the most forward-thinking designers. A pioneer in the use of new technologies in her discipline, Iris van Herpen transgresses conventional clothing norms, while embracing both traditional Couture craftmanship and innovative techniques. 

Ranging from micro to macro, the exhibition questions the place of the body in space, its relationship to movement, transformation and its environment, and its future in a rapidly changing world.
A selection of over one hundred Haute Couture body-works made by Iris van Herpen dialogue with works of contemporary art, by artists like the Collectif Mé, Wim Delvoye, Kate MccGwire, Damien Jalet, Kohei Nawa, Casey Curran, Rogan Brown, Jacques Rougerie, Ren Ri, Ferruccio Laviani, Philip Beesley and Tomáš Libertíny, in addition to items from the spheres of the natural sciences, such as skeletons and fossils, thereby instilling a unique resonance with historical pieces. The exhibition is curated by Cloé Pitiot and assistant curator Louise Curtis.

Born in 1984, Iris van Herpen grew up in the village of Wamel (Netherlands) in harmony with nature and the living world, which are, along with the classical dance she practiced intensively from an early age, the founding elements of her relationship to the body. After a formative period with Alexander McQueen and Claudy Jongstra, she founded the Maison Iris van Herpen in Amsterdam in 2007, combining the subtleties of craftsmanship with the pioneering spirit of innovation, decompartmentalising and opening up her practice to a host of other disciplines, resulting in sensorial designs that capture the intricacy and diversity of the natural world. Four years later, she joined the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in Paris. The year 2010 marked a turning point in her career: she presented her first 3D-printed dress from the Crystallization Collection, currently conserved by the Musée des Arts décoratifs.


Iris van Herpen contemplates her designs as an interdisciplinary language and a dynamic entity, the result of the cross-pollination of various fields: art, chemistry, dance, physics, architecture, biology, design, and technology. In 2012,  the Groninger Museum devoted a first major exhibition to her work. Van Herpen's embodied art has become a permanent fixture in the musea landsape with her designs in world-leading museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Victoria and Albert museum in London and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. Today, Iris van Herpen is internationally recognized as one of the most remarkable and surprising female artists of her generation. 

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Celebrating her unique approach, this retrospective, organized around nine themes, identifies the essence of her work, merging design, contemporary art, and science. The theme of water and the origins of life, omnipresent in the designer’s work, opens the exhibition. Her underwater Carte Blanche collection, showcased in this space, dialogues with David Spriggs’ work Origins, literally inviting the visitor to immerse themselves in the artist’s aquatic universe. Water is also touched on in terms of the scale of the immensity of the ocean with the wave realized by the Collectif Mé. A special space reveals the natural environments invisible to the naked eye already unveiled in the 19th century in the remarkable glass models by Léopold and Rudolf Blaschka. Works by Ren Ri and Tomás Libertíny, made by bees, contrast with the fragility of Rogan Brown’s paper works. The theme of the skeleton is inaugurated by the Skeleton dress echoing the hybrid skeleton of a work by Japanese artist Heishiro Ishino. The place of the body is also evoked at the heart of organic and architectural networks, represented by means of a body-sculpture, as a metaphor for a Gothic cathedral and a documentary by Yann Arthus- Bertrand and Michael Pitiot entitled Terra, committed to the defense of life and the interconnections between ecosystems.Visitors are invited to leave the physical dimension of their body to explore the sensory world, through the concept of Synesthesia and a sculpture by Matthew Harrison. 

Finally, the shadows of mythology around the theme of the medusa created by Phillip Beesley enter into a dialogue with works by Kate MccGwire, EcoLogicStudio and an historic piece of Samurai armour. In the next section dedicated to new nature, the installation Living Shadows by Beesley comes to life as a derivative of physical dress and infiltrate its surroundings. An installation by Casey Curran offers a reflection on the place and the physical and spiritual future of human beings. The exhibition ends with a presentation of Iris van Herpen’s body-works as if projected in the immensity of the cosmos. Her design dance across the sky, with bodies floating through space and time.

Three spaces bring the exhibition to a close: an evocation of Iris van Herpen’s studio, in which visitors are immersed into her experimental process through hundreds of material samples, a cabinet of curiosities presenting her accessories, alongside elements from the natural sciences and videos, and a room celebrating the living and moving body through videos. The retrospective is accompanied by a sound composition created by Salvador Breed, which challenges the senses and further immerses the visitor in this journey around the body and the themes close to the designer. Much more than an exhibition devoted to Haute Couture, Iris van Herpen: Sculpting the Senses takes visitors on an immersive journey through this singular and hybrid universe, punctuated by Iris van Herpen’s research and experiments.

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