Last year I was very happy that a trip I made to Chicago coincided with a unique exhibition staged by The Art Institute called Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity. The exhibition included, of course, paintings from the Impressionists but alongside them were also displayed period dresses that bore very close resemblances to those worn by the models posing in the paintings. So I was delighted that this month that I had the chance to attend a lecture offered by the Bata Shoe Museum, given by Dr Gloria Groom senior curator at the Art Institute of Chicago. Each year the Bata Museum invites a guest speaker to give a “Founder’s Lecture” designed to enhance and expand their patron’s knowledge. The topics aren’t directly focused on shoes they are more contextual in nature. Dr. Groom’s topic was Manet; Fashion & Fetish and was directly related to the Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity exhibition that she had curated last year.
Monthly post on the 9th of each month!
On-line, On-nine November 9th 2014
Dr. Groom explained the exhibition came about as she explored some questions she had about the clothes depicted in the Impressionist's work. She is a painting historian, not a costume historian. So she had consulted with experts in the costume field only to discover that there was an exciting possibility for a unique exhibition to be staged.
Part of the reason it was so unique is because it is very difficult to display clothing in a museum setting because of the destructive forces that kind of environment place on textiles. So, many museums decide against displaying their collections of fabrics. One of the other reasons is that clothing is transitory and fashions fleeting. Costume historians have a really tough time gathering a good collection. Many garments, unless they are an important pieces, are simply discarded or are altered to make them suitable for wear when trends change.
One of the most interesting points Dr. Groom made was to explain that, by using x-ray technology, historians have been able to determine that Manet reworked the dress of a woman shown in his painting “The Races at Longchamp”. He, like many seamstresses did, updated the silhouette because fashions had changed between him beginning the piece and completing it.
Sadly I have missed seeing a much smaller exhibition that is showing at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London called Knitwear Chanel to Westwood. This exhibition is showcasing knitwear from its birth as an outer garment, when Chanel used jersey to make her famous suits, right through to the present day. This history of fashion knitwear is part of what I studied at university, part of my contextual studies, and I would dearly love to be able see all the pieces up close on display, rather than just in photos.
I saw a wonderful review of the exhibition in the Guardian newspaper and this quote really caught my attention.
"So why, then, is knitting so often seen as the poor relation of high fashion? Dennis Nothdruft, the
museum’s curator, believes the “basic functionality of knitwear” loses out against the glamour of
couture. But with knitwear, especially if knitted yourself, every step and stitch in construction is
known, seen and touched – the very same characteristics of haute couture, which makes it even
harder to understand why knitwear suffers by comparison.”
Clothing is something that we hardly pay attention to in day-to-day life, but in fact it can speak volumes about current thinking. In our present age we are constantly snapping digital photos of where we were, what we ate and of course what we were wearing. We probably live in the most documented era to date (if the means to view these images remains of course). Whereas early photographs were limited to special occasions, we are now recording the mundane and everyday for future historians. But the garments themselves have become even more disposable. So curators will probably still struggle to offer the thrill of seeing an artifact up close and thus be able uncover our relationship to our clothing and how we felt about changing trends.
Thank-you for reading and I hope that you enjoy the photos - this month's photos are of sky, land & water.
Please check back next month to see what my latest fascination is.
See you next month!
Exhibitionism, Fashion & Context
I love going to museum exhibitions and in recent years there have been some stellar ones on display. I’m thrilled to see that curators are coming up with wonderfully exciting takes on their subjects. I’m obviously not alone in this excitement, as some exhibitions have become almost like rock-stars with thousands of people clamouring to see them; the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the David Bowie is at the V&A in London for example
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