In November, I was looking forward to an exhibition of costumes marking 175 years of Angels the Costumiers, a London based company that make outfits for theatre, television and film. Titled Dressed by Angels, I knew the exhibition had opened in October and would include a history of the company, as told through dress, displays of their well known costumes, including Indiana Jones, Wicked and Doctor Who and the company’s impact upon fancy dress. It looked like the perfect thing to do in the run up to Christmas and would be a festive treat, given it cost around £16 for a single ticket.
So then, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the exhibition had closed early due to the insolvency of its organisers Dressed by Angels Ltd. The exhibition website was replaced by one page stating the current situation, adding that this company had nothing to do with Angels the Costumiers either financially or administratively.
Intrigued by the news and the absence of any further information about the exhibition, I tried to find out more about the company Dressed by Angels Ltd. I discovered that they were a combination of the curator, Mario Iacampo, and a company called ExhibiTours Ltd. If you search for Mario Iacampo on Google, you find a YouTube video of him from 2013 discussing an exhibition that he produced in Brussels featuring a reproduction of the first Emperor of China’s terracotta army, initially discovered in the mid-1970s. If you search for ExhibiTours Ltd, you find reference to an exhibition in the UK called The Art of the Brick that took place in London, in the same location as Dressed by Angels, between 2014 and 2015. The Art of the Brick featured art works created out of lego bricks, made by Nathan Sawaya, an American artist. According to the Art of the Brick website, ExhibiTours Ltd (which does not have its own website) “was founded in order to source and stage high quality exhibitions from around the world in the United Kingdom.”
The Old Truman Brewery, where both exhibitions were held, was also the location for Body Worlds, an exhibition that has popularised medical anatomy through its display of specially preserved human bodies since 1995. In December, there was an interesting article in the Museum’s Journal, the UK Museums Association monthly magazine, about medical museums and their displays.(1) While these museums are working more towards displays about personal experiences of medicine and the human body, the article discussed concerns around making these connections too sensational. Showing visitors how to pickle a body or displaying fantastic anatomical models needs to be considered alongside their educational aims. Exhibitions like Body Worlds should not be the main aim for medical museums.
Reading this, I thought about the Dressed by Angels exhibition and whether it might be more closely related to Body Worlds than, say, the V&A Museum or other more established dress collections? Or did the exhibition cater for an audience that might never venture into the V&A Museum, considering its contents too distant from their own knowledge and curiosity? In trying to answer this question, I needed to further research the exhibition itself. However, this proved to be quite a challenge.
While the opening of Dressed by Angels was covered by a variety of media sources including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the magazine Harpers Bazaar (1), the performing arts weekly publication The Stage and a variety of blogs, there are very few reviews and hardly any mention of its sudden closure. There is an interview with one of the curators but that seemed to be the end of the trail for any more information on their curriculum vitae. Interestingly, there are several references to working with the owners of Angels the Costumier as well as one, in another review, that places the company’s owner Tim Angel at the opening night, making a speech. Yet, despite all this, Angels the Costumier make no mention of the exhibition on their website, neither before, during or after the event. Without an exhibition website or catalogue, we have no idea how Dressed by Angels acquired the costumes from Angels nor whether any were reproductions of reproductions, so to speak.
Using Instagram, I attempted to trace visitor’s recollections of the event using the exhibition title as a hashtag. While I found over 400 related images, very few featured the visitors themselves or the amateurish qualities of smartphone photographs.
Therefore, any recollection of this exhibition remains elusive or ghostlike, with only a virtual trace to suggest it actually took place. If you were able to see Dressed by Angels or you know someone who did, I would love to hear from you about your experience. It seems like the personal stories about this exhibition and its contents are still missing – can you help find them? This might also help me to better understand what kind of exhibition Dressed by Angels was – a spectacle or an education?
(1) Julie Nightingale Surgical Spirit Museums Journal December 2015 pp20 – 25 Museums Association
(2) There was a feature on the exhibition on Harper’s Bazaar UK website in December but when I checked this week, it was not there. The initial url was http://www.harpersbazaar.co.uk/culture-news/news/behind-the-seams-at-angels-costumes#slide-13
Top image: http://irenebrination.typepad.com/irenebrination_notes_on_a/2015/10/dressed-by-angels.html – please note that all the images from the exhibition are taken from this blog’s review.