Isaac Mizrahi, Curator


Does Isaac Mizrahi sleep? It hardly seems likely. Not only is Mizrahi prepping Spring ‘10 collections for both his own label and Liz Claiborne, where he came on board as creative director last year, but he plays a starring part in Bravo’s new series The Fashion Show, he blogs, and he hosts his own weekly fashion klatch on his Web site, and frankly, God knows what else he’s up to, but certainly something. Nevertheless, Mizrahi has managed to carve out some spare time over the past six months to jump into a new role as curator: His first exhibition, Summer Pictures, opens at the Julie Saul Gallery in Chelsea this Thursday night and features work by artists such as Maira Kalman, Adrianne Lobel, Lisa Sanditz, Julia Sherman, and Wayne Thiebaud. Here, Mizrahi talks to about color, cupcakes, and more color.

What made you decide that you wanted to curate an art show?

Oh, gosh. Let’s see…Well, my friend Julie Saul has a gallery, and not too long ago she became the gallerist for my very dear friend Maira Kalman, and then we started talking. She—Julie—was telling me that the gallery is usually pretty slow in the summertime, and I mentioned that I’d love to put together a small show of work by artists that I really love, and then, you know, it was just one of those things.

How did you choose the artists?

Actually, that kind of goes back to how the show came about. One of the artists I mentioned to Julie, Adrianne Lobel, I really adore her work and I’ve been collecting it, and in the meantime Julie’s been looking at her paintings and wanting to show them, but there wasn’t quite enough there for something solo. So, you know, group show. That’s really the whole story. It’s a pretty haphazard group of pictures, to be honest. This isn’t something I’ve been working on for years.

Haphazardness notwithstanding, is there any kind of overarching theme?

Well, the principal one is, work I like by people I like. But there’s definitely a huge story around color. Adrianne, for instance, she’s a real en plein air painter, and her pictures are just getting more colorful and more graphic and more insane every year. She’s a set designer, too, by the way. And Julia Sherman, she worked in the sixties and made all these crazy color studies. She’s another painter with whom I have a very personal relationship. I mean, I’m actually related to her, through my mother. And it’s funny because a while ago André [Leon Talley] was in the studio and he was asking me about my inspirations for the Fall prints, and I realized how absolutely central an influence Julia Sherman has been on my work.

In what way?

Well, I mean, she lived up on Park Avenue, and her family had a house in Sands Point, Long Island, too, and for me, growing up, it was always a very glamorous experience when we went to visit. I can remember standing in that Park Avenue apartment, staring at her paintings, and feeling like, this is something. And to this day, every time I think about color I refer to Julia Sherman. She’d do these mixes of pastels and Day-Glo, and if you look at my work over the years, you’ll see it really does hearken back to her. I’m planning on showing a painting of hers I call “Dots.” I have a small version of the same painting in my studio that I look at every day.

Has working on this show been influential, in terms of feeding you ideas for your collections?

Totally, totally. One of the younger artists in the show, Lisa Sanditz, she does this strange kind of Day-Glo underpainting, and layers color on top of that, and that’s an idea I really like for fashion. Last season we did Day-Glo bodysuits and layered color on top. I’m so intrigued by the energy of Lisa’s work, too. It’s very “silver lining.” She’ll paint some very depressing scenario but it’s kind of like, well, at least it’s beautiful at the end of the world. Like when you watch a really brilliant sunset and it occurs to you, hmm, this sunset is probably only quite so beautiful because there’s, like, a chemical haze in the air. But, oh well. I’d say that “silver lining” quality is another theme of this show.

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that color is a pretty big theme for you for Spring.

Absolutely, totally. Again. Those Julia Sherman reds next to pale, pale pink, my Spring collection is going to be all about that. I feel like people are really open to color now. When I launched in ‘87 and I did super-bright colors, they loved it, but they didn’t buy it. They’d shoot it, they’d laud it, but they’d wind up buying black. I’m talking about New York, now. The South is a different story—that’s always been a haven for me. But here in the city, these days—it’s nuts, color is what flies off the rack. My own line, and Liz Claiborne, too. More color sells better. I don’t know what’s going on, exactly, but it’s like a whole new world.

Do you have a favorite painting in this show?

Oh, don’t ask me that. I mean, these are all paintings that are important to me in some way. Obviously, I have a very personal relationship with the Julia Sherman, but then, I love the work that I pulled from this young artist Donna Chung. The painting in the show that blows my mind, just strictly in terms of the fact that it’s in the show at all, is the cupcake picture by Wayne Thiebaud. His cupcake series has been really important to me, so I definitely wanted one in the gallery, but I was doubtful that we’d be able to make that happen. They’re sort of a big deal, those paintings. So I was just blown away—blown away—when I found out that he was painting a new one, specially.

Was there work you wanted to show, but couldn’t?

Lots of things. Some work I couldn’t include because it just didn’t fit; you know, it lacked that silver-lining quality, or something. You could just tell it wasn’t of a piece. And then, of course, there are paintings I absolutely adore, paintings by Klee, paintings by Klimt, that I would have no way of bringing to Chelsea. I’m not Philippe de Montebello at the Met. I can’t make those phone calls. And anyway, who has the time?