I Wear My Heart On My Tee
Now in its third year, I Wear My Heart on My Tee is calling for new designers to submit their work and anyone else in between, for that matter, who’s willing to tango with the ‘tee’.
In 2007, the Town Hall Gallery went shopping for a new exhibition. The idea - says Curator Mardi Nowak - was to move away from the usual ‘high art’ gallery ensemble and towards something a bit more everyday. And thus, the gallery transformed itself - into a tee-shirt boutique.
“Tee-shirts have become a way for people to say things about themselves,” Nowak mentions when asked about the exhibition’s growing popularity. “I think it’s because they’re really easy to do.”
The exhibition is set to take place every two years, and when I mention the possibility of tee-shirt popularity fading (at some point in the not-so-near future, perhaps) and what that would mean for the exhibition, Nowak has this to say:
“I don’t think that is actually going to change. I mean - obviously - fashion styles and what people are putting on tee-shirts definitely changes. And this is the third exhibition we’ll be doing as a tee-shirt show and over the last two shows we definitely saw a change in what people were producing on the tee-shirts.”
In recent years, designers featured in the exhibition have moved away from the typical, reproducible styles and towards designs that were more art-based and one off.
“Last time a lot more artists were literally using the tee-shirts as a canvas to produce work,” Nowak explains. “And I guess people were sort of - you know - in recent years we’ve kind of got back to a crafty, DIY kind of style where people had stencils or had drawn directly onto the tee-shirts.”
The exhibition has proved a success for designers and consumers alike - as tee-shirts are available to be both admired and purchased on the spot, directly from the gallery’s walls to buyer’s hands. It’s an easy way for struggling artists to turn over a little cash - as if the exposure itself wasn’t enough - or an excuse for fashionistas to get their shop on in an atypical shop setting.
“I think that it will always be popular, but I think people will become more aware of what they’re putting on their chest - in a sense. All this terrorist stuff, you know? There have been people evicted off of planes because they’ve worn something controversial.” Nowak laughs. “I think people will have to think a little bit more - potentially - about how they may be perceived with those types of shirts.”
Some enthusiasts wear tee-shirts for that reason alone - whether they’re meant to be political, humorous, overtly sexual or reference pop-culture - they are meant to raise a little controversy. Then again, there are also tee-shirt crazes that aim at the opposite - those that are meant to conform - and I can audibly hear Nowak’s voice cringe at the other end of the line as our conversation switches gears and the judgment calls begin.
“It’s kind of a tourist thing as well, you know? I hate seeing people who are wearing the ‘I heart NY’ tees... And it’s kind like, ‘yeah, OK… so you’ve been’ and most of the time they haven’t, even!”
Gag, indeed. Unless they’re wearing it ironically.
“I was actually having a conversation like this with my husband this morning… You judge people by what kinds of cds they have in their collection, and I was just saying I kind of judge people by the books that they have on their shelves,” Nowak admits. “It’s true, I definitely judge people by the kind of t-shirts they wear too. It’s sort of like, a bit of an insider club.”
But fret not - ‘I Wear My Heart on My Tee’ is not a competition. Anyone can be a part of the magic via an online application process.
“The exhibition is kind of like, constantly evolved throughout the show. It’s pretty insane. People have always really enjoyed it and gone on to different things.”
I Wear My Heart On My Tee is open for applications at http://townhallgallery.blogspot.com/p/tee-shirt-exhibition-applications-2011.html .
The exhibition happens at Town Hall Gallery between Wednesday March 2 and Saturday March 26.
Article by Cacye Hill