On one hand T-shirts are so ubiquitous we barely notice them. Along with jeans and tennis shoes, they are the workhorse uniform of daily life.
But the whole point of most T-shirts is to be noticed: to signal to the world the uniqueness, the sardonic worldview or fashion sense of the wearer. From "I'm With Stupid" to Pixies concert mementos, the T-shirt has become the ultimate billboard in the American obsession with self-branding. To a T: Cute or Couture? at the Museum of Design Atlanta offers T-shirts as both eye candy and food for thought.
There is no denying that the show's co-curators Laura Moody and Savannah College of Art and Design fashion professor Sarah Phillips Collins are open to the semiotic multiplicity of T-shirts along with their seductive appeal. One of the pleasures of To a T is the noticeable local hook in the large number of Southern and Atlanta artists, including indie crafters such as Shannon Mulkey and Christy Petterson and T-moguls such as Methane Studios, Epidemik Coalition and the hometown shout-outs to Buford Highway and Sweet Auburn in Esperanza's irrepressibly witty designs.
These T-shirts prove remarkably complicated code carriers. They can represent a philosophy, such as the ones made by Project Alabama (which closed shop just before the show's opening), a design house that employed regional seamstresses in an effort to plump up the local economy. T-shirts can be an expression of culture-jamming impulses, as in the indie-craft movement, where homemade T-shirts often made from recycled materials demonstrate the ecological and anti-corporate DIY attitude of those makers. And a large number of shirts in To a T are political; such as professional snow boarder-turned-designer Jib Hunt's grenade painted like an American flag.
The copious antiwar messages form a nice riposte to the equally prevalent, thug-romancing images of guns and skulls that suggest that, to paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton, for every T-shirt there is an equal and opposite T-shirt.
For more images from the Fit to a T exhibition, click here.
To a T: Cute or Couture? Through Jan. 13. Museum of Design Atlanta, 285 Peachtree Center Ave., Marquis II Tower. Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 404-688-2467. www.museumofdesign.org.