The exhibition entitled Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945* is truly extensive! A few weeks ago I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to see their first ever fashion exhibition as well as interview Assistant Curator of Textiles Nicole LaBouff, PhD.
The MIA is a solid museum and I knew the exhibition originated from the Victoria & Albert Museum, however I was still surprised at the breadth and depth of the show. Therefore I’m spending two visits at the museum and devoting two distinct Worn Through posts to the tour/interview and then to the review.
A little background from the press release:: “Trace the evolution of Italian design, from Gucci and Prada to Missoni, Versace and more. A major retrospective of the fashion that has defined a nation—and a rare chance to see Milan’s finest in Minneapolis. An MIA first, this groundbreaking exhibition examines the craftsmanship and entrepreneurial verve that catapulted Italy from the ashes of World War II to the style powerhouse it is today. Immerse yourself in impeccable design, rare ingenuity, and the head-turning glamour of celebrity style.”
Nicole was generous enough to walk me through the exhibit discussing its development by the V & A staff as well as any adjustments made for the Minneapolis space and audience.
Dolce & Gabbana
Leather Ankle Boots with Gold, White and Pink Embroidery
2000 Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Tom Ford for Gucci
Man’s Velvet Evening Suit
Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
As I walked thru the sprawling space looking at the numerous items Nicole explained that V & A curator of 20th century and contemporary fashion, Sonnet Stanfill, did extensive research into archives and an array of other sources to pull together this comprehensive show.
Monica: How did Italian Style come to the Minnepolis Institute of Arts?
Nicole: Negotiations mostly were before I arrived. The way it happened was that the V&A typically reaches out to our museum and gives us a sense of what traveling exhibits were lined up. (The MIA) was interested in doing a fashion show and what our director and our leadership really liked about Italian Style is that it wasn’t one designer that was featured, it was focusing on an entire a national industry and that was a huge draw for them.
When the show completed its run at the V & A it was packaged for touring. It will come to a handful of U.S. spots and was constructed to be transported virtually pre-built. The MIA purchased new modular cases to showcase the dress objects and plans to repurpose the cases for future shows. When the exhibition was being installed the V & A sent their choice of individuals to assist and to handle all dress objects.
Sequined Evening Dress and Silk Coat
Worn and given by Princess Stanislaus Radziwill Worn to Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball 1966 Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Monica: Can you discuss some of the challenges and highlights of the preparation and install?
Nicole: It came all prepared. That made it really exciting, the fact that we had these massive crates that would be wheeled into the galleries and when we would pry it open it would be like unwrapping these giant Christmas presents day after day! That created an install that was really high on drama.
I can’t really think of any in particular challenges as it was very smooth install. I attribute it to the fact that things were dressed everything as very fast really very pleasant.
Bamboo-handled Pigskin Bag, early 1960s
Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Monica: What are some of the fan favorite pieces and you must have a favorite?
Nicole: I love the Fendi mink coat for the intricacy of construction and the “How did they do it?” factor. When we were unpacking objects I was really puzzling over how did they get those pieces (together). [Note from Monica-It's a patchwork coat and is displayed adjacent to its mock up]. There are so many fan favorites but the Fendi coat is something that there is a lot ooo-ing and aaahhh-ing and gasping. But, I kind of worry that people walk past it because it kind of doesn’t look like a fur coat. I think it’s easy to walk past it and think it’s a velvet coat and printed or something. [Note from Monica--it is part of a large display of items versus an isolated spotlight piece].
People really love the Audrey Hepburn dress. That’s an older Hollywood actress that even young people are really familiar with and spans all ages. I think it’s really interesting that it’s a film costume and you can see it moving in that film clip so it’s wonderful to have it contextualized with that material.
The Elizabeth Taylor jewelry is a really great story and it’s a great object. [Note from Monica–In her blog post for the MIA, Nicole tells the fantastic tale of Eddie Fisher buying Taylor the Bulgari earrings in an attempt to save their marriage during her affair with Richard Burton, only to have her foot the bill when it didn’t go his way.]. I’m always sure to mention on tours one of the things I think people really would appreciate about it is that the gemstones are set on springs so it would have trembled when the wearer moved so it would have been such a spectacular piece to see it in motion.
I think there’s a lot of really attractive and exciting pieces in the final gallery about the designer. The Dolce and Gabbana is hand painted, so if anyone has a difficulty understanding why a fashion exhibit belongs in an art museum I always make the point that that’s a very literal translation that bridges because it’s a painting. A lot of people catch that (and show) a lot of nodding and understanding that fashion has relevance in art museums. Also the Capucci piece in that last gallery is also a stunner; the green and pink one.
Silk Evening Dress, 1987-88
Courtesy Roberto Capucci Foundation
Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The exhibition is built on the idea of the history of Italian style shifted from magnificent designers and their craftsmanship, then makes its way toward mass production, ready to wear and the entertainment industry, and then circling back through to unique pieces and artisans again.
Monica: What is meaningful about this exhibition to the average Minnesotan (and other U.S. cities it will travel to)? Is it the familiar designer names? Why do you think the Italian designer really grabs the American public’s interest?
Nicole: The didactics explain that the story of the growth of Italian fashion is really implicated in American history too. So it’s really an important symbiotic relationship between Italian producers and American consumers. And that’s something the exhibition really demonstrates very clearly.
I don’t imagine it’s a draw. The drama of having a major fashion exhibition here at the MIA, the first ever, is the draw, but then once they’re here they’ll find it’s really not just Italian designers doing something over in Italy. It’s actually we as American buyers helped to grow this industry and this would be really interesting to the person going through the exhibits.
If we had one on French fashion we’d see people coming in great numbers. It’s an exciting new type of artwork for people to engage with in a large scale.
In a couple of weeks look for my review of the exhibition which will be from the lens of an audience member as well as colleague. I look forward to giving all of the items a second look!
Photograph by Gian Paolo Barbieri for Gianfranco Ferre advertisement Fall/Winter 1991
Model: Aly Dunne
Italian Style: Fashion Since 1945 at Minneapolis Institute of Art
Runs Thru January 4, 2015, ticketed exhibition in the Target Galley, see the website for details
Exhibition organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Presented by Nordstrom and the Blythe Brenden-Mann Foundation.
Major Sponsor: Delta Air Lines
Generous support provided by: Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Topsy Simonson
If you find yourself at Somerset House over the festive period, stop for a moment to have a look at an interesting series of small displays that draw attention to the relationship between fashion, winter and leisure pursuits in a subtle but poetic manner.
Fashioning Winter, an exhibition created by nine curators, offers a poignant backdrop to Somerset House’s annual ice rink experience. As you discover the various displays, made up of inventive interventions in and around Somerset House, you are reminded that London is not only a fashionable capital but also a city that celebrates winter pastimes.
‘Skating is Streatham’ by Beatrice Behlen
This is particularly well achieved by Beatrice Behlen’s display highlighting the craze for ice skating during the interwar period in London with ghostly photographs of art deco indoor ice rinks and a pair of ice skates worn by a regular skater from the 1930s.
‘Skating on Film’ by Caroline Evans
Caroline Evans’ display of silent ice skating films from the early 20th century are mesmerising and perhaps the closest thing we might get to of a re-enactment of London’s 17th century frost fairs on the river Thames.
‘White Perspectives’ by Sofia Hedman and Serge Martynov
The display ‘White Perspectives’, curated by Sofia Hedman and Serge Martynov fills an entire staircase with objects illustrating the way in which the colour white has historically informed fashion. I particularly loved a fascinating video about the work of designer Iris Van Herpen who uses white 3D printing to create her fashion designs.
‘Winter Mode’ by Rebecca Arnold
Another staircase is adorned with homemade Christmas cards by photographer Angus McBean. This display, curated by Alistair O’Neill, nicely captures the festive spirit. Yet, it is Rebecca Arnold’s display on how fashion has informed our need to dress warmly in the winter months that for me best encapsulates the exhibition’s main title.
Fashioning Winter is a free exhibition at Somerset House until 11 January 2015 and you can download the exhibition guide here. I would also recommend Furzsi’s post about the exhibition on the Courtauld’s Documenting Fashion blog.
First image credit is to Professor Amy De La Haye who provided the image for the London College of Fashion website. It can be found here http://blogs.arts.ac.uk/fashion/2014/11/11/lcf-alumni-curate-fashioning-winter-exhibition-somerset-house/ [Accessed 15 December 2014]
My favourite museums are house museums. I really do not know how many times I have been to Hearst Castle, but I know I have no plans to ever stop visiting. I love to see where and how people lived. Second to this — especially for private residences still in use — are exhibitions about such grand homes and estates. Having been a lifelong reader and lover of Jane Austen, I suppose this isn’t a surprise. Thus, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House was an absolute dream of an exhibition for me.
The exhibition, which is open until January 18, 2015 at the Legion of Honor, draws from the collection of quite possibly the original English country house — read ginormous mansion — Houghton (pronounced ‘how-ton’) Hall. The house was built by England’s first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole (known as Cock Robin by those who didn’t like him). Walpole can also be credited with starting the trend for magnificent country estates that then swept Britain; until Walpole the Pemberleys, Kellynches, and Hartfields that serve as the backgrounds of Jane Austen’s novels didn’t exist. The Legion of Honor’s exhibition allows visitors an inside look at not only the current Houghton Hall, but insights into its creation, history, and survival tot he present day.
Exterior view of Houghton Hall, Norfolk, England. Photo: Nick McCann
Through the use of high-resolution prints of wallpaper, ceilings, library bookshelves, etc., and the arrangement of those objects — paintings, ceramics, furniture — the Legion of Honor transformed its special exhibition space and recreated the rooms the exhibition focused on quite well. Beginning with the opulent red damask and gilded Saloon (below), the exhibition established fully in the minds of museum visitors what homes like this were built and decorated to do: show off to Walpole’s fellow members of parliament and aristocrats, and his political rivals who had the most money and taste.
A view of the Saloon at Houghton Hall, Norfolk, England. Photo: Nick McCann
Interspersed among the tombstones and wall text — which outlined the history of the home from room to room — were family trees which helped visitors trace the family and how the family titles changed as they were added to. Since they started out as the Earls of Orford, the wall texts were remarkably helpful in determining how they became the Marquesses of Cholmondeley (pronounced “chumdley” apparently) as people married or inherited other estates. However, most fascinating was the history of each room and its building and renovation since these little histories showed how the house evolved not only with the trends and styles of successive generations, but with the tastes and needs of the family as well. Not to mention the insights such histories gave into the way in which homes were decorated and built from 1720 until the most recent renovations and revivals in the early 20th century.
William Kent, architectural drawing for the Marble Parlour at Houghton, ca. 1730. Black and brown ink and brown wash on paper. Marquess of Cholmondeley, Houghton Hall. Photo: Pete Huggins, by kind permission of Houghton Hall, EX.2013.HH.132
What I was most fascinated by were the original plans, drawings, and perspectives created by architect William Kent and his various successors, for the building and decorating of the house. Even the placement of paintings was thought of by the various architects as can be seen in the various drawings on display. Since my internship during my master’s degree was working with a similar private collection of architectural drawings, I felt like with my background they gave me more insight into the home and its history — but also added depth to the exhibition for the “novice” visitor as well, as I overheard various fellow visitors remark on the plans.
In the “library” room, they had several books on display from Sir Robert Walpole’s own collection — including secret dossiers from security meetings during Walpole’s tenure as prime minister in the first half of the eighteenth century.
Cabinet at Houghton Hall, Norfolk, England. Photo: Nick McCann
There were three objects in the exhibition that I found most beautiful and incredible. First were the intact rolls of chinoiserie wallpaper that decorates the “Cabinet” seen in the image above. Four such rolls were hung on the walls of the room meant to recreate the “Cabinet,” in absolutely pristine condition. Nothing was said about why the wallpaper was still in existence, let alone in such excellent condition, but I can only assume it was extra from when the room was decorated and that it was originally kept “just in case” of need to replace the original. To have not a photo recreation, but the original wallpaper as it must have come from the manufacturer was truly wonderful, indeed.
Second were Jean Singer Sargent’s portraits of the woman responsible for Houghton’s preservation and survival in this century, the current Marquess of Cholmondeley’s grandmother, Sybil, Marchioness of Cholmondeley. Her mother having been a Rothschild, her father a Sassoon, and marrying the Marquess, Lady Sybil had the means and the inclination to restore the home. She became fascinated by its history and its original builder, Sir Robert Walpole, and it is no overstating it (if the wall text, catalogue, and video interviewing her grandson are to be believed) that she ensured this beautiful home’s survival. Sargent’s portraits of the Marchioness is are arresting in their beauty — not merely because of Sargent’s skill, but because of Lady Sybil’s unique, striking beauty and bold, avant-garde way of dressing for the portraits. The one below is apparently the result of her not having anything she considered suitable to wear for her engagement portrait, and so the great artist went to his “dressing up box” in his studio and draped her in a beautiful gold fabric he found there.
John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Sybil, Countess of Rocksavage, 1913. Oil on canvas. Marquess of Cholmondeley, Houghton Hall. Photo: Pete Huggins, by kind permission of Houghton Hall
Last but not least on an academic fashion blog, the exhibition ended with a “bang,” if you will: displayed on two mannequins the coronation robes that the 4th Marquess and Marchioness of Cholmondeley, wore to the coronations of Kings Edward VII and George V. Complete with crimson silk velvet, gold braid, and ermine train.
Uniform worn by the 4th Marquess of Cholmondeley, 1901. Wool and metallic thread. Marquess of Cholmondeley, Houghton Hall. Photo: Pete Huggins, by kind permission of Houghton Hall, EX.2013.HH.060.1
Only the Marquess’s costume is shown above, but also on display was the Cecil Beaton portrait of Lady Sybil and her husband George, when they were the 5th Marquess and Marchioness, similarly attired for the coronations of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II.
Cecil Beaton, George and Sibyl, Marquess and Marchioness of Cholmondeley, in their coronation robes, 1937. Gelatin silver print. Marquess of Cholmondeley, Houghton Hall. Photo: Pete Huggins, by kind permission of Houghton Hall, EX.2013.HH.065
The exhibition did have its failings. The layout was somewhat illogical and hard to follow, with very few of the rooms seeming to flow into one another in any logical path – the first room recreating the Saloon seemed to lead into the last room and exhibition shop instead of onto the rest of the exhibition. The library in particular was awkwardly placed, off to the side and exiting all over again if you didn’t double back to the rest of the exhibition space. This is partially simply the nature of the Legion of Honor’s special exhibition space, but I can’t help feeling that the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco — which has used the space magnificently in the past — could have laid things out in a way that would not confuse visitors. The tombstones and much of the wall text were also frequently too small and placed in such a way that you had to get dangerously close to the objects themselves to read the plaques and see what you were looking at. I did not envy the gallery attendants their jobs in the recreation of the “Cabinet” where in order to read the tombstones for them, you had to lean over the eighteenth-century, lacquered card tables in a rather precarious way, since on either side of you were glass cases and other visitors.
Overall, the exhibition was wonderful, and did exactly what it aimed to do: recreated not just Houghton Hall, but gave visitors insights into and an understanding of the world of the English country house.
A view of the Marble Parlour at Houghton Hall. Photo: James Merrell
A view of the Picture Gallery at Houghton Hall. Photo: James Merrell
Have any of you been to see Houghton Hall? What were your thoughts? What house museums and similar exhibitions do you enjoy? As always, please share your thoughts in the comments. You can also leave me information about upcoming events and exhibitions in your area, or you can email them to me.
Opening Image Caption: A view of the Stone Hall at Houghton Hall. Photo: James Merrell
Main image © Rachel Atkinson / mylifeinknitwear 2014 and used here with permission.
It was with some trepidation that I approached the exhibition Knitwear: Chanel to Westwood at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey on a cold rainy Sunday last week. The loud hint of a chronology in the exhibition title was less than appealing to what is arguably my constant critique of the historical overview as the failsafe curatorial approach to fashion and dress displays. I wondered about which objects would be used, as well as which technological developments would be explored in more depth, given that the exhibition’s aim is to ‘chart the influence of art movements Pop, Punk and Deconstruction alongside new knitwear technologies and design innovation.’
A piece from Roisin McAtamney MA Digital Fashion collection
Upon walking in, I encountered a precursor in the form of a small display curated by Professor Sandy Black at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts, entitled Visionary Knitwear. A small display of contemporary knitwear from design graduates celebrates both fashion education and the continued relevance of knitwear to our daily dressed lives. I was particular enthralled by the work of Roisin McAtamney, Juliana Sissons and Sister by Sibling, all of whom show in their work a interesting juxtaposition between contemporary culture and historical influence. It was exciting to see knitwear as a dynamic form of textile and fashion design, studied to such a high level by these influential designers. I also liked the inclusion of examples produced by companies such as a pair of 2012 Nike Flyknits running shoes, drawing our attention to how important knitwear is as a technological innovation in the design of everyday goods.
Juliana Sissons fashion armour
This invigorating start to the larger exhibition was then followed up by a nice introductory display that demonstrates just how consistent our interest in knitwear design is with the juxtaposition of two items in the same pattern; one from H&M and the other hand knitted in 1907. This small opening display allowed me to reflect upon how and why it is that techniques and patterns continually resurface in everyday dress.
View of the main room, featuring sections Knit America Style, Crochet Your Way and the Cocktail Hour
However, further reflection and the hope of encountering knitwear through the lens of their emotional value and/or their associations with particular wearers, as proposed in the accompanying guide, fell short almost immediately as I found myself looking at a very straightforward chronological display of knitwear in the main room. Instead, there are just a few glimpses of how knitted items were made and what they felt like to be worn in amongst a rather basic timeline that could be found in most historical texts on knitwear, even Wikipedia, dare I say it.
Summary labels that make even the full sighted squint in an effort to read the inscrutable white capitalised text against a black, unforgiving background did not help. Due to a photography ban, it was not possible to capture these curious things. I am not sure whether the curatorial team felt that the labels needed to be ‘modern’ in form as a contrast to the historical weight of the exhibition but whatever their rationale, I was glad they did not carry it through with the paper guide, which due to a more reader friendly combination of red, black and white meant I could still navigate my way through the various displays.
Display crates in the main room
The attempt to present knitwear in a more contemporary light may perhaps also explain the use of huge crates as display cases which frame the various ‘this is your life’ moments associated with knitwear in the 20th century. While one review lauded the way in which these semi-opened wooden cases suggested a sense of treasured garments being rediscovered, I found it difficult not to think of mothballs and the proliferation of East London cafes with similar DIY interiors.
Vogue shoot, February 1951. Photograph: Norman Parkinson/Vogue
Now, the need to make knitwear ‘modern’ or ‘now’ within the exhibition is interesting because what it reveals is some concern about the status of knitwear in today’s society. The curators and collectors are, arguable, not alone. The review of the exhibition by the Guardian’s Invisible Lady, a voice for older women interested in fashion, leads to much reminiscing about the demise of the knitting glory years and the constant low status bestowed upon knitwear in the face of haute couture and high fashion. Yet, this does not seem to be shared by those involved in the designing and making of knitwear whom also visited the exhibition. Reading reviews by knitting enthusiasts Katy Evans and mylifeinknitwear remind us that this area of textile and fashion design is very much alive and well, with no intention of being laid to rest in some forgotten corner of our wardrobes.
Norman Parkinson, Vogue, February 1952
For me, it is the emphasis on presenting a chronology of knitwear that is problematic and which underpins the subsequent need to make small details in the exhibition appear ‘modern’ such as the labels and display cases. If the opportunity to debate the currency of knitwear, the shifts in production and consumption, technological developments and the philosophical concerns underlying its existence had framed the curatorial decisions, this exhibition would have better addressed the issue of knitwear being more than just a bag of old clothes on display.
The Fair Isle display
I am also confused by the arrangement of 150 knitwear examples because according to the exhibition information, the curators and collectors wanted to avoid a ‘historical overview’ and focus on ‘the emotions we invest in objects’. Unfortunately, one is completely overwhelmed by a chronological approach and very underwhelmed by the personal associations with these items. A good example of this was the display of Fair Isle garments where quantity and repetition took precedence over quality and association, making it very easy to disassociate from what looked like a bad Boden editorial.
Mark and Cleo Butterfield at the exhibition’s opening night
On closer look, it is possible to find evidence of these emotional investments, allowing me to see knitwear playing an active role in people’s lives, challenging the notion that no-one knits anymore or will care to in the future. I was fascinated by the items that revealed just how interested their owners were in knitwear and the best examples of these were those shared by Mark and Cleo Butterfield, private collectors whose collection makes up most of what is on display. To see Cleo’s very competent attempt to knit a Patricia Roberts pattern in the 1980s was to witness the immediacy of knitting and the effort made to ‘wear or create’ knitwear.
Les Sportives section featuring knitted swimwear
It would have been great to include more details like this as related to the earlier pieces, which might better locate the making and wearing of knitwear in our emotional memory. The display of knitted swimwear, for example, left me with so many questions concerning the experience of wearing these garments at the seaside. What did it feel like to wear wool in the water or while lying down on the pebbles? To what extent did these items sag and become heavy with the weight of salty liquids? How did that alter the experience of those wearing them? Was it embarrassing, hilarious, liberating? Alternatively, there were many pieces on display that were machine knitted yet discussion around this means of production was largely absent. The exhibition seemed to miss these moments for further deduction, opting instead for an extended but static representation of knitted items.
The Novelty Factor section, highlighting 1970s interest in pop art and postmodern styling
So, in some ways, my initial feelings of trepidation were not without warrant. Knitwear Chanel to Westwood is not an exhibition that breaks new ground nor did it leave me wanting to pick up an implement and use it to start weaving two threads together. The historical examples are enjoyable to see but they are definitely more interesting when accompanied by a personal story or two. Yes, the exhibition does capture some cultural and technological aspects of a knitwear timeline but it could have done so much more with this. It wasn’t a badly spent Sunday wet afternoon, just perhaps a bit too quiet for my liking.
This week’s post is a bit of a cheat, since I will be discussing an exhibition that closed over a month ago. But the exhibition was so wonderful, despite being small and tucked in amongst LACMA’s South Asian and Middle Eastern permanent displays, that it absolutely deserves a mention even if it is no longer open.
Back in September when I visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to see both Kimono for a Modern Age and Art Deco Textiles (both of which I reviewed here at Worn Through), I noticed Princely Traditions and Colonial Pursuits in India on the list of exhibitions currently on display. Having done my master’s thesis (dissertation in the UK) on the influence of India on British dress and society, I knew I had to stop in at the exhibition before I left the museum that day.
Landscape with the Taj Mahal, circa 1800-1825
India, Uttar Pradesh, Awadh, Lucknow
Opaque watercolor on paper
Sheet: 15 3/4 x 24 in. (40.0 x 60.96 cm); Image: 14 x 22 in. (35.56 x 55.88 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Purchased with funds provided by The Smart Family Foundation through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar G. Richards (M.86.123)
Photo © 2014 Museum Associates/ LACMA
For my master’s research I was focused on Britain itself, and what the returning nabobs and nabobinas — as they were derisively referred to — brought with them and how it affected their society. LACMA’s exhibition focused on what they collected and commissioned while they were in India, the prologue to my own research, if you will. So needless to say I found the exhibition absolutely fascinating. I learned that many artists and artisans who had previously worked for Indian princes, now offered their services and products to the British colonists, “adjusting their practices to suit the taste of their new patrons.” There was also the influence of European artists who came with the merchants and government officials, as can be seen in the two paintings above: they introduced new genres and aesthetic styles to India.
LACMA does not ignore the fact that many of these officials and merchants were only temporarily posted to India, and also explores the demand for Indian luxury items created by not only Britain’s having this new colony, but more definitely by those returning from India with their collections of Indian art and household goods. One intriguing detail I noted was that the names of the Indian artists were far more often known than those of the European painters. I found myself wondering if India didn’t respect the arts and thus the artists more than Europe did during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Attributed to Dana Bhati Maharao Ram Singh (r. 1827-66) Enjoys a Dance Performance, circa 1850 India, Rajasthan, Kota Opaque watercolor and ink on paper 17 x 21 1/4 in. (43.18 x 53.9 cm) Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Paul F. Walter (M.77.154.22) Photo © 2014 Museum Associates/ LACMA
Pair of Lorikeets on Broken Branches, Folio from an album commissioned by Sir Elijah and Lady Impey, 1780
India, West Bengal, Kolkata (Calcutta)
Opaque watercolor and ink on paper
Image: 20 x 29 in. (50.8 x 73.66 cm); Sheet: 25 x 37 1/4 in. (63.5 x 94.62 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Purchased with funds provided by Christian Humann (M.72.36.1)
Photo © 2014 Museum Associates/ LACMA
As I have said the exhibition was small, and tucked away amongst the South Asian and Middle Eastern permanent displays. However, it was very rich and the museum managed to communicate much through the use of objects from across museum departments. There were paintings, sculptures, architectural pieces, and, of course, fabric.
Designs from the Adina Mosque, Pandua, West Bengal, 1812
India, West Bengal, Purroah (?)
Opaque watercolor and ink on paper
Image: 21 1/4 x 17 9/16 in. (54 x 44.6 cm); Sheet: 21 7/16 x 17 15/16 in. (54.5 x 45.6 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Indian Art Special Purpose Fund (AC1993.74.1)
Photo © 2014 Museum Associates/ LACMA
India, Coromandel Coast for the European market
Cotton plain weave, painted and dyed
124 1/2 × 89 in. (316.23 × 226.06 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of the Costume Council in memory of Mary Hunt Kahlenberg (M.2012.73)
Photo © 2014 Museum Associates/ LACMA
This is something I have noted before that LACMA does extremely well: integrate various objects to create context without using often-limited wall text. By placing the objects with other pieces – albeit of a different medium – that they would have been seen with originally, the exhibition gives visitors a better impression of what the “whole picture,” as it were, was for this particular aesthetic movement or trend. It also creates an ambiance that is sometimes lost when an exhibition focuses only on one element. That is not to say that focusing on one element, era, or designer is a bad thing — I would never have been able to appreciate the beauty and artistry of Balenciaga had I seen his work “in context” as it were, whereas seeing it in an exhibition devoted only to him at the de Young museum gave me an understanding of his technique and genius. But it does strike at the heart of museum exhibitions: what are they trying to communicate? And how often then succeed at communicating that message through objects and their arrangement.
This is what I love about LACMA — and many other museums, it was just that this particular exhibition brought the idea home — the work and effort that goes into the exhibitions behind the scenes to make the exhibition and its message seem effortless, whether it is about a single topic, or trying to create as close to the full picture as possible. So much of ‘Domestic Affairs’ focuses on a single topic — whether it is modern kimono or fashion during World War I – it was lovely this time around to focus instead on an entire group of people. And a group of people with whom I discovered I was only half familiar. I thought I was a bit of an expert on the nabobs and nabobinas, but LACMA’s Princely Traditions revealed that I was familiar with only half their lives and opened a new avenue of research to me. Which is exactly what museum exhibitions are supposed to do.
Principal Monuments of India, Including the Taj Mahal, circa 1850
Opaque watercolor on ivory, mounted in an ebony frame
6 3/4 x 7 x 1/2 in. (17.145 x 17.78 x 1.27 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Albert G. Wassenich (34.13.965)
Photo © 2014 Museum Associates/ LACMA
Did any of you see Princely Traditions? What did you think? Are there any exhibitions that have made you stop and appreciate the art of exhibition creation, lately? Do you feel integrated exhibitions are less successful than those with a sole focus, or more? Are there any small museums or exhibitions that didn’t get the press they should have? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And as always, if you have an announcement or know of an event or exhibition that you want featured here, please either comment below or email me.
Opening image caption: Arthur William Devis Manre Royale d’Aubusson The Hon. William Monson and His Wife, Ann Debonnaire, circa 1786 England 40 1/2 x 51 1/2 in. (102.87 x 130.81 cm) Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Hearst Magazines (47.29.16) Photo © 2014 Museum Associates/ LACMA
Among the many things that I am preparing for with the approach of the holiday season is how I’m going to work various fashion exhibitions into my schedule.
Obviously, those exhibitions outside of California are impossible for me, but hopefully they will be possible for many of you.
Most exciting for next week is Fern Mallis’s conversation with Valentino at 92Y in New York City. Tickets are currently sold out, but there is a wait list available for Mallis’s November 18 program with the legendary designer. This is in addition to the Death Becomes Her having opened in the last couple weeks at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Jill discussed her visit to the exhibition in her post, yesterday), and Killer Heels still open at the Brooklyn Museum.At the Museum at FIT, while Exposed: A History of Lingerie is closing, their special exhibition, Dance & Fashion will remain open until January 3.
As I was informed by Jon in a comment on my last exhibition round up, there is another exciting exhibition on the east coast examining Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Cartier collection at the Hillwood Estate. Cartier: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Dazzling Gems has been open since June, but will not close until December 31.
In the Midwest, Chicago Styled: Fashioning the Magnificent Mileopens November 15 at the Chicago History Museum. It looks to be a truly fascinating exploration of the local fashion industry and the people who both worked in and utilized it, based upon the amazing blogposts that have led up to the exhibition’s opening.
In Des Moines, Halston & Warhol: Silver & Suede will be open at the Des Moines Art Center until January 18.
Here in California, Hollywood Costumeopened a month ago and will be up until March just across the street from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Also in Los Angeles, the Fowler Museum at UCLA has three textile exhibitions on display: Bearing Witness: Embroidery as History in Post-Apartheid South Africaup through December 7; Textiles of Timor: Island in the Woven Sea up through January 4; and Yards of Style: African-Print Cloths of Ghanaopen through December 14.
In San Francisco, not directly related to fashion — but indirectly since his V magazine photo shoot — Ai Weiwei’s @Largeis currently on display on Alcatraz Island; at the de Young Museum, Keith Haring: The Political Line while not actually involving clothing or textiles offers visitors a chance to see some of the original drawings used by Vivienne Westwood in her 1983 collaboration with the artist. At the Legion of Honor, Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country Houseis open until January 18. I will be writing my review of it in early December.
Opening January 31 at the de Young is Embodiment: Masterworks of African Figurative Sculpturewhich will be a wonderful opportunity to explore bodily depiction from approximately 110 different cultural groups. It may be a wee bit early to get excited about March openings, but I must confess I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland opening on March 7 and featuring not only Henry Raeburn’s Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch, but his portrait of Colonel Alastair Ranaldson Macdonell of Glengarry in full Scottish military regalia which inspired my master’s ‘virtual exhibition’ on tartan and Scottish dress. Even more exciting is the arrival of High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Legion of Honor on March 14.
What exhibitions are you making time for this winter? Are there any exhibitions you want to share with Worn Through readers? If so, feel free to either email me or to share your thoughts in the comments!
Opening image from the website for Hillwood’s Cartier: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Dazzling Gem
Last month I was able to take a long overdue vacation and view many wonderful exhibitions along the way, as well as attend and present at the 4th annual Fashion Now & Then conference at LIM College, which I’ll discuss in next month’s post.
One thread that that ran through my gallery observations was a heightened awareness of sound incorporated into the exhibition experience. Obviously, the visual sense is privileged in the gallery setting–both for object presentation and preservation. Touch is a strong urge among gallery goers–especially when sumptuous fabrics or iconic garments are involved–and this audience longing for a real, tangible connection with the object is often overlooked, and of course must be controlled for conservation reasons. There have been some inventive ways to incorporate the sense of touch into exhibition experiences, such as the inclusion of half-scale, touchable models of Charles James gowns at the Charles James: Genius Reconstructed exhibition at the Chicago History Museum in 2011.
Sound can also be an effective tool in enriching sensory experience, establishing context, and creating a certain mood. Upon my visit to Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I became very aware of the use of sound, which suffused and spilled over beyond the exhibition space. Before a single ensemble was glimpsed, the strains of Gabriel Faure’s Requiem, Op. 48 could be heard as one descended the steps into the galleries. Only the exhibition title was in view at this stage, placed in a cameo shape encroached upon by a painted weeping willow, referencing both mourning jewelry and embroidered memorial paintings of the 19th century.
Death Becomes Her exhibition entrance
Photo by the author
The music did not detract from the setting, but added to the physical and metaphorical weight of the clothing that women (and men, also represented through a few examples) wore through the mandatory stages of mourning. The music also seemed to affect the audience mood and conversation. People spoke in hushed tones or not at all, as though they were attending a funeral or other somber memorial event. (I should say that I attended the exhibition in the middle of the week, when there were less crowds than on the weekend—with a crowded gallery, the music may be muted and not have the same effect).
Another interesting use of sound in the galleries could be found in the exhibition, Kimono: A Modern History, also at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A fountain by Isamu Noguchi could be heard near a display of 19th century fireman’s jackets–fascinating garments that I did not expect to see in an exhibition on kimono. The flowing water certainly evoked the calm of the Japanese home, palace, or garden where kimono were worn, but could also be a tangibly audible reference to the function and use of the fireman’s jacket. Before fighting a fire, the jacket would be turned inside out with the decorated side against the body, and would then be soaked in water for added protection.
Installation view of 19th century fireman’s jackets, Kimono: A Modern History
Photo by the author
A museum that may seem an unlikely subject in a discussion of costume exhibitions is the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but it is filled with numerous textile-based items--uniforms and other fascinating artifacts of the luminaries of baseball’s past.
Installation view of women’s 1940s uniforms,
National Baseball Hall of Fame
Photo by the author
Filling the galleries were audio interviews with players, music that may have been heard during the early 19th century days of the game or from the Caribbean islands from which so many great players have hailed. These auditory pieces added by the museum were augmented by the lively banter of the audience themselves–reminiscenes of games past, memories of experiences in the stadium, the sound of “whooaaa”s by young baseball fans in awe. This in itself is also part of the exhibition experience.
How have you experienced sound in an exhibition? Are there creative ways you have heard it used?
This weekend ended the Palais Galliera’s glamorous exhibition dedicated to the 1950s fashion in France. We often think that because we know all about the New Look, the Bar ensemble imagined by Christian Dior in 1947, we know everything about the 1950s fashion. Yet this display demonstrates how versatile the stylistic silhouettes proposed by the designers of the decade were.
Within its splendid 19th century palace, the museum decided to privilege a simple modernist scenography that would moderate the extravagance of the architecture and emphasize the garments displayed. The exhibitions follows a thematic thread built on the typical wardrobe of an elegant Parisian of those days who would change several times a day to assume her social and fashionable obligations: we thus explore daywear, evening wear (within a ballroom-like presentation), leisure garments and cocktail dresses with a few accessory and undergarment hints. About 100 objects illustrate the abundance of styles, cuts and adornments that for most reveal how Parisian Haute Couture optimistically gained respectability and glory again after World War II while others announce a subtle fashion and social revolution, one that would burst in the 1960s.
The first thing you think of when observing all the garments displayed is how imprisoned the feminine body was during the 1950s, how male designers, led by Christian Dior’s iconic and scandalous ample New Look (influenced by Jacques Fath), fantasized a luxurious nostalgic silhouette with heavy layering of material, rich adornments and girdled hips. Most 1950s wealthy women dressed to seduce and entertain not to work, they wear Haute Couture designs alongside Tupperware products in the pages of the magazines hung on the walls of the Palais Galliera. The masculine and liberated image of women established during the war was erased for a more conservative archetype enhanced by the structural undergarments displayed within the exhibition on walls as abstract art works.
Pierre Balmain, « Antonia », evening dress, spring-summer 1954
Collection Palais Galliera
Yet alongside those romantic corollas, we observe the voluminous and sculptural garments of Cristobal Balenciaga who still inspire many contemporary designers while Gabrielle Chanel’s tailored suits announce the androgynous silhouettes of the following decade. Yes, the Chanel garments of the exhibition clearly stand out. The designer who had stopped her fashion career decided to triumphantly return in 1954 and do what she had already done in her beginnings: fight against archaism and help women build their emancipation with the help of fashion. She despised the hindering silhouettes of the male authorities and created her very own scandal with her sleek ensembles that provoked a cleavage in the middle of the decade.
Installation View: Evening Wear
Although the 1950s decade surely embodies the peak of French Haute Couture, the couturiers of the period help draw the early foundation of ready-to-wear. The exhibition makes it clear that, alongside various social factors of course, the success of Haute Couture worldwide, gave birth to ready-to-wear. The baby boomers of the decade and their youthful tastes are not represented within the display but we can’t help but note how the section dedicated to leisurewear announces teenage fashion and the 1960s ready-to-wear. Led by influential cultural figures such as Brigitte Bardot, young women favor light coton, beach dresses, ballerina shoes, naive prints…that provide the body with unrestricted, dynamic and graceful moves. Those looser designs serve as and experimental platform to the up-coming 1960s wear.
Finally, just as the exhibition’s span begins with the revolutionary look of Christian Dior’s 1947 collection, it symbolically ends with the appointment of the young Yves Saint Laurent as Artistic Director of the Christian Dior house in 1957. Although at Christian Dior, he pursues his master’s opulent style, we know how promptly he would become the emblem of feminine emancipation and ready-to-wear in the 1960s.
Installation View: Day Wear
The Palais Galliera exhibition was a strongly didactic display that not only diffused eye-candy but also proposed an innovative lecture of the decade’s fashion, far from clichés and easy assumptions and raised an undeniable debate: What do you think? 1950s fashion: revolutionary or archaic?
Exhibition Catalogue: Bosc, Alexandra. Les années 50: La Mode en France 1947-1957. Paris: Paris Musées, 2014.
Between the ages of about three and five my absolute favorite film was Singin’ In The Rain. To this day I will still watch the ‘Moses Supposes’ segment to cheer myself up at the end of a bad day. I have sometimes wondered if this is not the subconscious origin of my adoration for all things art deco. So, needless to say when I saw the original costume sketches for Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ In The Rain amongst the hundreds of sketches at FIDM Museum’s Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection, it elevated an already astounding exhibition to one of my personal, all-time favorites.
Christian Esquevin (exhibition guest curator) at the opening of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection
Featuring rare Hollywood costume sketches from the collection of author Christian Esquevin (Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label), FIDM Museum supplemented the beautiful sketches with pieces from their own collection including costumes, Photoplay magazines, and a rare, unfinished pattern for an unknown Katherine Hepburn film. These additions elegantly contextualized the sketches by showing the costumes from conception through fitting to finished garment, but also by placing the stars and what they wore in the surrounding social context of Hollywood’s golden age.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Unknown Film (1950s) Designer: Unknown Actor: Debbie Reynolds (b. 1932) Wool broadcloth, plaid silk twill & silk faille Hollywood Costume Collection, Recreation & Parks, City of Los Angeles FIDM Museum L88.1.11AB
Historical Epic Diane (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1956) Designer: Walter Plunkett (1902-1982) Actor: Marisa Pavan (b. 1932) as “Catherine de Medici” Silk velvet, silk satin, silk chiffon, ermine, faux pearls & rhinestones Gift of Maria Cole FIDM Museum Collection 2005.845.6AB/C
Installation view of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection
Cotton muslin pattern pieces created for a costume worn by Katharine Hepburn, RKO Radio Pictures, 1930s.
However, the real star of the exhibition remained the sketches from Mr. Esquevin’s collection. FIDM masterfully integrated these pieces from their own collection without overwhelming or upstaging the actual sketches. They instead emphasized the various sketches: period costumes across from a collection of period film costume sketches, etc.
Mr. Esquevin’s collection is nothing short of exquisite. I confess to being very surprised at the detail and beauty of many of the sketches. I have always loved fashion illustration — but this exhibition fully revealed the difference between fashion and costuming illustration. Fashion illustration is quick, simple, capturing shape and colour more than detail. The sketches in this exhibition were amazingly detailed, and yet each sketch is uniquely the designers’ own. Without having any prior knowledge of the subject, by the end I could identify an Edith Head sketch purely by her drawing style, before looking at the film name or the tombstone.
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1925) Designer: Harold Grieve (1901-1993) Actor: Ramon Navarro (1899-1968) as “Ben-Hur” Pencil, watercolor & gouache on paper L2014.2.7
The exhibition space is small, and yet the exhibition itself is not
Easter Parade (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer , 1948) Designer: Irene [Irene Lentz Gibbons] (1900-1962) Actor: Unknown Watercolor & gouache on paper L2014.2.33
. FIDM masterfully used the space to flow well and to display so many sketches without overwhelming the visitors. Sketches are grouped to emphasize different aspects of costume design throughout Hollywood, whether it is an emphasis on the period or genre film throughout the history of film, or to examine the studios, or particular designers. This breaks up the collection into segments that are easier to take in, while also giving a more complete picture of what costuming for Hollywood is and entails.
Installation view of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection
Installation view of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection
The other great point of this exhibition is that each of these sketches — whatever it became, whoever drew it, wore it, or commissioned it – is a work of art in and of itself. I attended the exhibition with only a mild curiosity, and left with a new admiration of costuming for the art it is. And with a new perspective on at least one film I have loved all my life.
Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection will be on display at the FIDM Museum main campus until December 20, 2014. It is definitely worth the visit.
Have you been to Designing Hollywood? What did you think? Do you have anything to share on the subject of costuming, or sketches? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. As always, if you have an event or exhibition you would like covered, feel free to share it in the comments or to email me.
Opening image caption: Installation view of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection
I have a confession to make: I am a sucker for pretty much all things art deco. I endured Baz Luhrman’s ‘interesting’ interpretation of The Great Gatsby largely because of the design aesthetic (okay it wasn’t that bad). So, when I found out that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) was doing a small exhibition just on art deco textiles, I made sure to go there even before the Kimono for a Modern Age or Treasures of Korea exhibitions I had originally headed south to see. Art Deco Textiles unexpectedly was a great precursor for Kimono because both exhibitions tapped the same inspiration sources in many ways.
The exhibition is small, and tucked away amidst the rest of the museum’s modern art collection of the same time period. Using one of the smaller galleries to showcase several lengths of fabric, placing the exhibition where they did masterfully put the textiles within the greater art and design context in a way that no amount of wall text could. With so many museums dedicating space in their museums to, and thus isolating, their textile and dress collections it does feel like we are losing some of the context. LACMA’s integrating multiple textile and dress displays within other aspects of the museum collection, as well as utilizing special exhibition and specialty display spaces is one of the many ways in which LACMA continues to raise the bar.
That is not to say the wall text was inadequate. It was phenomenal in explaining the Bauhaus school, its influence, and the evolution, début, and proliferation of the art deco style from 1926 throughout the 1930s succinctly and in the context of each of the pieces displayed. No mean feat.
The pieces and the wall texts not only placed the pieces within the artistic Zeitgeist of the time period, caught as it was between the two world wars and aimed to appeal to the “lost generation,” but also showed how art deco textiles were unique and original in their own right. The wall text in particular discussed the design process of each textile, and even gave the names to the now-lost designers.
Art Deco Textiles is both a fantastic introduction to the art deco movement and the textiles it produced, and a great exhibition for those who are familiar with the period. Small, but excellent, Art Deco Textiles is definitely worth the detour if you’re at LACMA.
Have you seen Art Deco Textiles? What did you think? Do you have an opinion on integration versus isolation? Art deco? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. Feel free to share any upcoming local exhibitions or events in your area there as well, or to email me the details.