Just hearing the name “Anna Wintour” can prompt one to sit up straighter. Notorious for her stony demeanor, the matchless editor-in-chief of American Vogue is not just one of the best-known figures in fashion, but a pop-cultural phenomenon in herself.
Her name has become synonymous with fashion insiderism, better-than-thou aloofness, and overworked assistants touting Starbucks coffee cups.
A free-to-enter exhibition from New York City’s THNK1994 Museum and Chicago artist Laura Collins titled “Anna Wintour Double Crossing Her Legs” aims to challenge that image. Over the course of 12 oil acrylic portraits, Collins studied the pretzel-esque, guarded position Wintour is often photographed contorting in during fashion shows.
“Anna’s whole life is sitting in a front row,” Collins told The Daily Beast inside the 2,500 square foot East Village pop-up. “She’s thought of as someone that you can’t approach or connect. But then you see her physical behavior—crossing her legs, folding her arms—and you think maybe she doesn’t let us in because of an insecurity, not because she thinks that she’s better than you are.”
For THNK1994 curator Matt Harkins, Wintour’s physicality humanizes the larger-than-life figure. (Who, in reality, stands about 5’7 feet tall.) “Her behavior is a shield,” Harkin mused. “When you think of it like that, she comes off as a little vulnerable.”
The pop-up, open for this weekend only, resembles a runway (stickers of kitties are plastered on the floor, because, catwalk!). The images are hung on both sides of one long, skinny room, a nod to both fashion shows and the curators’ origins.
In 2015, Harkins and his creative partner/roommate Viviana Rosales Olen turned their tiny apartment into a museum documenting the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan baton attack.
“Our heart lies in the hallway,” Olen said. “Hallways are great because you enter, you’re there, you’re surrounded. It’s a compact, art-in-your-face experience, which we think is efficient.”
The Wintour show is the duo’s first to be held in what Harkin called a “traditional gallery space in Manhattan.” (“It’s very worthy of Anna,” Harkin said. “Nothing less for her.”)
As visitors vogue for Wintour, Olen hopes the chorus of Annas will come off as less intimidating and more cheerleading. “Anna wants to see a good show,” the curator explained. “She doesn’t want you to fall, unless it’s more interesting. But it’s up to you. We can’t help you be a model.”
Collins recreated Getty photos of the editor sitting in the front row. She noticed minor details that almost bring Wintour down to mortal status—she usually wears the same tan, strappy Manolo Blahnik sandals, and often carries around a red notebook.
The artist also noticed one more thing about the woman everyone wants to know: she's often photographed alone. “She's often surrounded by empty seats, which means she's early," Collins mused. "That's why she's so successful—she's punctual and on it.”
Though the paintings feature the same subject, they are anything but repetitive. Collins has created a ensemble that each bring out different moods. In one picture, Wintour coyly leans forward as an inviting smirk forms around the top of her lips. In another, the editor's blank stare looks away into the distance, as if Wintour is mulling over some bad news she recently received.
The overall effect is equal parts kitschy (very on-trend for this year’s camp-themed Met Gala), and creepy. The team is unapologetic in their adoration of their subject, so anyone searching for criticism or objectivity, beware.
“We’re not trying to hammer anything on anyone’s head, or put on a show that’s dissecting and critiquing the person who we’re celebrating,” Harkin said, adding, “That’s more of a straight guy thing to do.”
Speaking of straight guys, Olen has one request for women trying to get their double crossed legs Wintour on. “If we can say anything it would be, don’t bring your boyfriend,” she laughed, only half-joking.
“You can see a difference when women come to the museum and try to bring their boyfriends—it’s a terrible experience,” she went on. “They’re really excited about this thing that they truly care about, they’re trying to let their boyfriends in on it, but the guys are side-eyeing everything. They look like they just came to the dumbest place and can’t wait to get out.”
The solution, of course, is one that Wintour, who has made a career out of women’s interest stories, would support. “Come with another girl, bring your friends,” Olen suggested. “You get to have your own joy, and then take it to another level with them.”
“Anna Wintour Double Crossing Her Legs” is at 616 East 9th Street, Storefront East, NYC, through November 11, 11am-7pm.