Active Resistance to Propaganda

Vivienne Westwood is one of today’s biggest names in the world of fashion design, and her creations have been considered so significant that England’s Victoria & Albert Museum mounted a retrospective of her career in 2004. Westwood began her career as a fashionista in 1971 when she teamed up with Malcolm McLaren, the vainglorious manager of the Sex Pistols, to open a boutique named Let It Rock. The small retail shop specialized in bizarre garments for rock ’n roll misfits, and later renamed Sex, became the hangout for London’s punk scene. The peculiar clothes Westwood created and sold there, slashed T-shirts covered with safety pins, leather fetishware trimmed with metal studs, and tartan bondage outfits with tons of misplaced zippers – came to define the aggressive oddball look of the punk movement.

Photo of Vivienne Westwood in 1977
Photo of Vivienne Westwood in 1977 wearing one of her infamous punk creations, the Destroy T-shirt. Made from muslin cloth and printed in lurid color, the silk-screened art combined images of an upside down crucifix, a swastika, and a small photo of the Queen of England. The graphic was meant as an denunciation of government, religion and fascism.

Since those chaotic, nascent days of punk rock, Westwood has moved on to become Britain’s dame of high fashion – although she’s still an iconoclast at heart.

She owns the old shop that once housed Let It Rock, but the space has been transformed into a new boutique called World’s End, where Westwood sells her chic signature line.

Currently she has other things on her mind besides runway shows and spring collections. In an interview with the Guardian she bluntly insisted that contemporary art and culture have been “kidnapped by business.” She opened the interview with the statement: “I think that we live in an age where culture is definitely in decline.”

Westwood condemns today’s so-called cutting edge art for being a “sham” devoid of humanity. To her the latest avant-garde conceptual art in galleries and museums is nothing more than “propaganda” meant to buttress a worn out and empty art world. Culture, Westwood tells us, is withering on the vine, and she asks, “how can people be so easily satisfied? Even people with talent.”

Listen to an mp3 audio clip of the interview.

To provoke a discussion on contemporary art and its possible future, Westwood has written Active Resistance to Propaganda, a whimsical yet sober art manifesto that she will publicly present at a literary festival this month in England – here are some excerpts:

“Dear Friends, we all love art and some of you claim to be artists. Without judges there is no art. She only exists when we know her. Does she exist? The answer to this question is of vital importance because if Art is alive the world will change. No art, no progress.

Music has not yet been conceptualized by the art mafia, though they are trying. We do not accept a symphony composed on the remaining three keys of a broken piano, accompanied by the random throwing of marbles at a urinal. Yet its equivalent is the latest thing in the visual arts. Aren’t ya OD’d on the latest thing? Items selected from real life and set up as art do not represent a view of life. The famous urinal is still a urinal whatever you do with it.”


UPDATE: On Dec. 29, 2022, Vivienne Westwood died at the age of 81. She should be remembered for the words she wrote in her biography: “The only reason I am in fashion is to destroy the word ‘conformity.’ Nothing is interesting to me unless it’s got that element.”

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