Sunday, June 20, 2010

American Women Costume Exhibitions at the MET and in Brooklyn

Elsa Scaparelli Bug necklace (Brooklyn image)
If you are in New York – you simply can’t miss the pair of costume exhibitions at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum and the Brooklyn Museum. Brilliantly drawn from the Brooklyn’s deep coffers of masterpieces, the exhibitions, celebrating American women, are filled with clothing, accessories and unique novelties from the mid 19th to the late 20th centuries. At the MET the focus is on the desire to embrace a new freer lifestyle that inspired the designers, liberating women, decade by decade. While in Brooklyn, it is motivated by the designers’ creativity and women of stellar style (with budgets to support their whims) who together defined and inspired artistry and change.
Liberty cape, 1900-1920 (MET image)
True to their character, the MET’s exhibition is staged, with showmanship and polish, while the Brooklyn just opens its closets and displays its exquisite wares in their bare bones, and astonishes with the unexpected, the rare and the historical references. When I finished, the MET exhibition, a previous visitor had written in the guest book, “I am proud to be an American Woman.” Proof of the invigorating emotional pleasure derived from the exhibition. I am switching back and forth between in my descriptions between the two exhibitions because they are both, equally so rich and beautiful. The textiles are fragile and certainly will not be displayed again very soon. I can’t encourage you enough to try to squeeze in a visit. “American High Style: Fashioning a National Collection” at the Brooklyn until August 1st, and American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity” at the MET until August 15th.
Paul Poiret's evening dress, 1910 (Brooklyn image)
With these exhibitions, the museums have also launched their new partnership – the transfer of the entire Brooklyn costume archive to the MET, for its care and preservation. Though initially it seems, spurred by the financial limitations of the Brooklyn, the collaborative combination of the Brooklyn’s collection focusing chiefly on the Belle Époque period, Elsa Schiaparelli, Charles James, the American designers in the first half of 20th century, and collections donated by extraordinary American women collectors, such as Millicent Rogers -- with the MET’s European and contemporary clothing – has created a magnificent, powerful collection. The weekend I was there, the Museums jointly held a symposium covering all aspects of their collaboration culminating in the work of these two exhibitions. I attended Jan Glier Reeder’s (Consulting Curator) lecture on the three year documentation process, followed by her gallery talk of the exhibition. Needless to say, I was ecstatic and it was splendid!
One hopes though, that the MET will be able to maintain the unique character of the Brooklyn’s collection. It is as much the sensitive and subtleties as the obvious and well documented reasons, that identity the heritage of the Brooklyn Museum’s pieces and how they came to be so generously donated.
Charles Frederick Worth, late 19th c (Brooklyn image)
Below Elsa Schiaparelli cotton dress, patched with seed package prints and a bold zipper down the back.
I have many more images to share with you!

No comments: