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Cusco Couture: Mario Testino's Alta Moda Brings Fashion Magazines to Life

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The walls of the Dallas Contemporary's main gallery wear unfamiliarly dark shades of black and maroon. When it's empty, the space seems more reverent, more immersive. All you hear is the click of your heel meeting the floor, and all you see are the rich, vibrant colors of Peruvian costumes. Mario Testino's Alta Moda, on display through December 21, invites viewers into the pages of a magazine spread, but this time he's traded celebrity portraits for a peek into his pride for his native country, Peru.

Booking Testino's work for a fall exhibition in Dallas may at first seem like headline bait. Big name fashion designer hits fashion hungry Texas city. But this is hardly the first time Testino's work has been exhibited on the walls of an artistic institution, and it certainly brings with it less ballyhoo than the display of his fashion magazine portraits aptly named, In Your Face.

Alta Moda focuses entirely on the traditional costumes of Peru. In 2012, Testino opened a museum in his hometown of Lima, Peru to display a collection of his photographs. He wanted to put something more close to home in the collection, but he also wanted to show it off to the world. When he discovered an archival collection of traditional costumes, voila! the project was born.

The photos, while shot in Peru, carry no hint of the environs. Instead, they are all taken in front of the same gray backdrop, bearing a resemblance to the work of Martin Chambi, a fellow Peruvian who photographed indigenous Latin America people, and whose work Testino lists as influence for this series.

Unlike Chambi, who was interested in documenting the people, the star of Testino's show is the clothing. While the show disguises itself as interested in keeping history alive, this is more fashion shoot, than history lesson. This is compounded by the obvious lack of curation or interest in guiding the viewer through the scenes. In one photograph, the models wear masks, like performers at a festival or carnival of some kind, but what carnival? Lacking any enriching knowledge of the scene painted or the costume adorned, these photographs leave the viewer with a similar narrow understanding of fashion or culture derived from fashion magazines.

Entry to the Dallas Contemporary (161 Glass St.) is free. Alta Moda remains on display through December 21.

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