Through a Glass, Modishly: Barneys Meets Deste Foundation

Walk up to one of Barneys’ Madison Avenue windows right now, and, as if sensing your presence, a woman’s voice will suddenly begin singing the melodic refrain from America’s “A Horse with No Name.” “La la la,” she sang, when we visited. People on the sidewalk stopped and stared. Behind the glass is a black Perspex grid through which a film is visible that shows a row of girls lined up in a large windowed room who walk one-by-one up to a seated woman, bend down to her and confess. “I wanted to put broken glass in Isola’s shoes,” says one. The seated woman gags the girl and blindfolds her.

While the windows at Barneys are regularly done up with fantastical conceptual displays, this one is over the top even by those standards. That’s because the work, by filmmaker Athina Rachel Tsangari, is one of five installations conceived by Barneys creative director Dennis Freedman and Dakis Joannou, founder of the Athens-based Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art.

In addition to Ms. Tsangari, four other artists—M/M (Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak) Paris, photographer Juergen Teller, artist (and retired fashion designer) Helmut Lang and poet Patrizia Cavalli—also have windows.

Turning the corner onto East 61st Street, we saw a mise-en-scène with an outmoded computer printer, hung beside which was a pale blue tulle tutu lit up like an angel; nearby was a faux-liturgical wall text. A woman’s voice chanted in Italian, in an incantatory sermon-like tone, a stream of phrases interpolated repeatedly with the nonsensical phrase “tutu-contratutu.”

The reflection in the window of a hot-dog vendor watching us startled us out of our trance and we moved back around the corner, at which point we were confronted with the greatly enlarged visage of the late designer Yves Saint Laurent which loomed on a white scaffold smiling at us impishly—Juergen Teller’s installation—and it brought us to a halt. We stood back. “Ma’am, Ma’am!” said a man hauling a clear bag of cans. We moved out of his way and into a stream of smartly dressed men and women walking at a clip down Madison Avenue.

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