Category Archives: Museums

We’ve Been Punked

From the very beginning I was less than enthused about the Met’s Costume Institute’s Punk exhibition.  My biggest concern was that with all the wonderful objects within the Met’s costume collection, it was sad that they were yet again focusing on fashion from the past twenty or so years.  And then, before the Punk show opened, Malcolm McLaren’s widow made the claim that some of the objects were fakes.

This was not a new claim.  In 2008 McLaren himself had studied objects that had come from the same source as some of the Met’s punk items, and had found them to be fakes. Artist Damien Hirst had spent about $150,000 on punk clothing from Simon Easton, who was selling the stuff through eBay.  After the items were viewed by a former punk and seller of reproductions, Camden Jim, who recognized some of the designs as the ones he had sold at Camden Market,  Hirst became alarmed and contacted McLaren, who found that most of Hirst’s items were fake.

In the meantime Christie’s Auctions, who had some of the Easton material had concerns and called in McLaren to examine the items they had obtained from Easton.  Easton’s Ebay account was suspended.

To backtrack a bit, in 2006, the Costume Institute, in preparation for their Anglomania exhibition, acquired quite a few Westwood/McLaren punk items.  These were a prominent part of the exhibition and accompanying catalog.  When the Hirst fakes were exposed in 2008, it soon became evident that there might be some problems with the Met’s items as well.  At the time, Andrew Bolton, the associate curator responsible for the purchase and the Anglomania exhibition said that the pieces bought from Simon Easton would be reviewed.

At this point the story goes cold until February, 2013.  Malcolm McLaren had died in 2010, but his widow started questioning the validity of objects that were to be shown in that summer’s Costume Institute exhibition, Punk: Chaos to Couture.  She wrote to the Met outlining her objections to several of the items that were to be in the exhibition.  Along with Paul Gorman, who had worked with McLaren to try and establish the authenticity of many items, she gave detailed reasons why some of the objects were “wrong.”  A spokesperson for the Costume Institute replied that  “the provenance of all the punk pieces in our collection and in the upcoming exhibition have been verified”.

But now it appears as if they were not.  Paul Gorman, who examined the Met’s McLaren/Westwood holdings in May 2013 wrote a detailed report on his findings – a report that was not good news for the Met.  Not only did he believe that a large number of the garments were fake, others were suspect, and still others were misdated.  After the Punk exhibition came down, other experts were called in.  As a result, two bondage suits with the Seditionaries label were marked for de-accession. Both suits had been in the Anglomania exhibition of 2006.

However, the two suits in question are still on the Met’s website, but very recently the listing designation was changed to  “Attributed to Vivienne Westwood” and “Attributed to Malcolm McLaren”.  Around thirty other objects now have “Attributed to” in the item description, and photos of most of these items have been removed.

Just as disturbing is the faulty dating of objects.  Gorman gives the example of a pair of bondage trousers that were dated to 1976, but the trousers have the Vivienne Westwood Red label - a label that was established in 1993!  In his article on his blog, Gorman shows the museum’s page on the trousers (2006.253.18) which has a photo of them and the label.  When I looked up the page today, I see that the photograph of the label has been removed.

You should read Gorman’s detailed blog post, and judge for yourself.  I  see some very shoddy scholarship in action here.  As a very small-time collector I can tell you that it is very difficult to always get dating and attribution correct.  But even with my limited resources I want to be as accurate as possible, and I am always willing to admit when I am wrong, no matter how much I want to believe otherwise.  Should not our institutions be the same?

 

Thanks to Sarah at TinTrunk for the Gorman article.
 

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Mint Museum Uptown

We can’t all be lucky enough to live in or near a large cultural center like New York City or London, but in most areas there are plenty of smaller museums and historical sites that are well worth seeking out.  The Mint Museum in Charlotte, is a two and a half hours drive for me, but it is well worth the effort and gas money, especially when combined with a bit of shopping.  It’s rarely crowded, never any line, and there are plenty of treasures to discover.

I’m a bit ashamed that I’d never visited the Mint’s uptown Charlotte location, especially since I was so pleasantly surprised by the exhibitions.   The facility houses the Mint’s craft and design collection, but it also has a great exhibition of American art.  As icing on this artistic cake, there are a few items of clothing from the Mint’s costume collection also on view.

The photo above shows a Charles Frederick Worth evening cape, made of silk velvet, point de Venise lace, glass beads, metallic sequins, and silk tulle.  M. Worth did not do “less is more.”  I love how the creator of the exhibit resisted the urge to add any additional items to this display.  I’ve had concerns about over-accessorizating in some of the Mint costume exhibitions.

This early Twentieth century bathing suit is labeled “Water Sprite.”  It’s perfectly accessorized with the black stockings and bathing shoes, which I love.

In the same vein a summer painting by artist William James Glackens is shown.  Good Harbor Beach, 1919.

This 1920s “Orientalist” evening frock is labeled “Pascaud, Paris”

The Mint also has a good collection of the works of Romare Bearden, who was born in Charlotte.  This work is Girl in the Garden, 1979.

The contemporary craft collection is also very interesting.  This bowl is actually made of wood which is painted.  The artist is Binh Pho, the work, Realm of a Dream, 2007.

This work is stitchery on paper.  The artist is Anila Rubiku, the work, Mastering Freedom, 2006

This installation by Hildur Bjarnadittir took up an entire wall.  The squares are crocheted wool which were dyed using plant material.

What makes Urban Color Palatte interesting is that Bjarnadittir gathered the plants from along roadsides and vacant lots in Charlotte.  Even though the dye stuffs were basiclly what we consider to be waste plants, or weeds,  the results produced a wide range of color and character.  The same concept might also be applied to humans.

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Allure of Flowers at Mint Museum

The Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC has one of the best costume collections in the Southeast.  They have regular clothing exhibitions at their original location in what was at one time a US Mint, but there is a second location in uptown Charlotte that is more craft oriented.

I’d never been to that location mainly because I hate uptown Charlotte.  During a building boom twenty or so years ago, skyscrapers began to replace the old storefronts on Trade Street.  The result is a pretty soulless place, with plenty of restaurants and banks and such, but few places to shop.  I generally avoid it.  But the Allure of Flowers drew me in.

The exhibition is arranged like a garden, with the objects being arranged according to the type of flower depicted, rather than by the type of craft.  Clothing and textiles were sprinkled throughout the garden, along with ceramics, jewelry, glass, and furniture.  It was interesting seeing how a flower, say a tulip, was interpreted by a Nineteenth century quiltmaker, a 1950s furniture designer, and a modern glass worker.

On the fanciful clothesline is hanging an Emilio Pucci print.  I always think “geometrics” when hearing the name Pucci, but his designs were much more varied than I tend to think.  This print is based on the lotus flower.

I somehow missed the maker of this fantastic light fixture.  There were several of these scattered throughout the hall.

This is just a tiny part of an incredible work by artist Anna Torma.  There are elements of embroidery, weaving, applique, sketching, and collage.

What would the Sixties have been without the daisy motif?  Here we see a great example in a “paper” dress.

This piece is probably my favorite in the exhibition.  It was made in 1929 by Kate Clayton Donaldson of Marble, NC, a tiny town in the far western part of the state.  It is where my father was born in 1926.  Granny Donaldson crocheted the figures and flowers from wool and then appliqued them to a piece of homespun.  Granny Donaldson called these “Cow Blankets” as they reminded her of colorful blankets she had seen on cows in pictures of Italy.  Note the bird at the top of the tree.

This is a small quilt, made for a crib using a technique called broderie Perse, or Persian embroidery.  It isn’t embroidered though; it is appliqued.  The flowers were carefully cut out from cotton chintz fabric and then were applied to a background.

Close-up of above quilt.

Note how this Lilly Pulitzer dress is blooming after being planted in a big pot.  The dress is made from nylon, and was bought in 1970 by Patricia Somerville for a trip to Myrtle Beach, SC.

We call shawls of this type Paisley, but the design evolved from floral motifs many years ago.  This example dated to the mid 1800s, and was woven in northern India.

This close-up of a late Nineteenth century crazy quilt shows a variety of flowers both real and fanciful, embroidered over the piecework.

This is one of the most famous of the Marimekko prints – Unikko.  The print is actually celebrating its fiftieth birthday this year.  Marimekko founder and owner Armi Ratia had said that the company would not produce any floral motifs, but one of the designers, Maija Isola, set out to make such a modern flower that Marimekko would have to produce it.  The resulting design is still in production today.

And what would a garden be without a few insects?

Next week I’ll show a bit more of the Mint Uptown and the permanent collection display.  I was thrilled to learn that the museum will be hosting in March an exhibition that is currently on display at the Warhol in Pittsburgh – Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede.

 

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California Design 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way

Mod Betty of Retro Roadmap recently was in Massachusetts where she not only got to see this exhibition, but also agreed to share it with us.  Located at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, it was originally organized by the Los Angeles Museum of Art.  Mod Betty also saw that one, and reported back that while there was some overlap, there was enough new material to make a second visit worthwhile.

The photo above is a spectacular early 1950s bathing suit from Cole of California.  Designed by Margit Fellegi, it was probably a tie-in with an Esther Williams film, Million Dollar Mermaid.

This suit is one of Cole of California’s best known bathing suits.  Designed by Margit Fellegi in 1942, it was designed to conserve fabric and rubber elastic for the war effort.  They called it the “Swoon Suit” and it guess it did make a few fellows feel weak in the knees.

These pieces were designed by Irene Saltern who is best known for her work at Tabak of California.   These coordinates date from 1960 and are so typical of what she did best – making cheerful, wearable clothes for a casual lifestyle.

Here is another set from Margit Fellegi for Cole of California.  These separates were from her Female Animal collection of 1954.

This Pucci-inspired print is on a Rose Marie Reid swimsuit from 1963.

This American flag themed suit dates from 1961 and is from Mary Ann DeWeese.  I thought this one was pretty interesting, as clothing that mimicked the flag was not always considered patriotic as it is today.  According to the Flag Code, it is not legal to use the flag as “wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery”, and I can remember how rock stars were criticized in the 60s for wearing flag-like clothing.

This is actually a bathing suit with a matching skirt.  It is from 1952 and was designed by Mary Ann DeWeese.  Aren’t those cutout flowers special?

Here’s one for the guys, though I can’t see many men today who would wear this.  These matching swim trunks and shirt or jacket were called cabana sets.

In the foreground is a mid 1940s play set from designer Pat Premo.  The fabric is of note, as it was from renowned textile designer Wesley Simpson.

In the background are the pants of the 20th century – Levi’s jeans.

Levi Strauss also made clothing with a Western twist for women.  This set dates from the mid 1950s.

No exhibition of California clothing would be complete without a bit of Gilbert Adrian.  This is a typical Adrian suit, with the precise piecing and use of stripes to produce a pattern.

This Adrian dress is a bit later, and is from his Atomic 50s collection of 1950.

Rudi Gernreich took wool knit and made surprisingly modern-looking bathing suits.  This one is from 1958.

The exhibition is not just clothing.  Furniture, decorative objects and other items featuring 20th century design are highlighted.

I want to thank Mod Betty (that’s her with her mom who accompanied her to the museum) for the great photos and for the item notes.

All photos copyright Beth Lennon.

 

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Shaping Craft + Design at Black Mountain College

Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction, as in the case of Black Mountain College.  One of the last places one might expect to find a progressive thinking school, and in many ways the heir of the Bauhaus, would be a small Appalachian town.  But in 1933, the college was formed using the principles of progressive education as envisioned by educator John Dewey.

It was to be a school where students were not to be saddled with the worry of grades, but instead were encouraged to find their own way through a study of the liberal arts.  Central to this study was the incorporation of art and craft, so much so that Black Mountain  is often mistakenly thought to have been an art school.

Also in 1933, Hitler and the Nazis closed down the Bauhaus, and so artist and teacher Josef Albers and his wife, weaver Anni Albers, were invited to join the faculty at Black Mountain.   Until the school closed in 1957 it was a hotbed of creativity, with the faculty and workshop teachers a who’s who of modern art and craft..

Today the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center works to preserve the legacy of the college.  Located in downtown Asheville, it is a little gem of a museum which features changing exhibitions dedicated to the work that came out of the college.  Just ended was a showing of some of the crafts produced by the college’s teachers and students.

The cover of the exhibition catalog, shown above, is a weaving by Don Page, Orange Fabric with Changing Threads.  It, and the piece below, Delicate Fabric with Stretched Threads, were made while Page was a student under Anni Albers at Black Mountain in the late 1930s.

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This weaving was made by student Lore Kadden Lindenfeld as a student at the college in the late 1940s.  Both student’s work follow Anni Alber’s insistence that form must follow function.

Above you can see a notebook of the designs from the weaving class, 1935, and a woven linen sample by Andy Oates.

This shuttle loom was an original from the black Mountain College Weaving Workshop, and has recently been restored.

Of course I was most interested in the textiles, but there were many fascinating objects from other crafts.  This hanging wire sculpture was made by artist Ruth Asawa.

Okay, I’m sorry, but I forgot to note the name and artist of this print, and I can’t figure it out from the catalog.  But I had to show it because it is so reminiscent of one of my all time favorite textile prints, A Fish Is a Fish by Ken Scott.

And finally, my new favorite chair, Lady Murasaki’s Fan Chair, by Robert Bliss.

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Season’s Greetings

I sat down to compile The Vintage Miscellany, but soon realized that there was not much of note to share.  I’m guessing people were too busy celebrating Christmas to be spend much time on the internet.  So instead of the regular feature, I hope you enjoy this fun video card from Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum.

My thanks to Jonathan and Kenn of the Fashion History Museum for sending it my way.

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Between the Springmaid Sheets

The main reason I went to Columbia, SC to the South Carolina State Museum was to see an exhibition on a famous ad campaign of the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the clothes that the ads inspired.  I almost forgot about it, and I must thank April for reminding me.  I’ve written about this series of ads, conceived by the owner and president of Springs Mills, Colonel Elliott White Springs, so in order to best enjoy this post, I suggest you read it first.

Colonel Springs was a WWI flying ace and a real character.  It seems as though he didn’t really want to be in the textile business, but what can a man do when he inherits six or so mills?  In Springs’s case, he took over the mills, but in order to satisfy his creative urges he turned ad man as well.  His story is well documented in a book he wrote, Clothes Make the Man, which is a collection of his letters (some of them written to a fictional character, Joe Fisk) with some short stories and company history thrown in.  The book was sold through the ads; you sent him a dollar and he sent you a book.

The ads, which were first used in 1947, used sexual innuendo and double-entrendres along with paintings of girls showing their underwear.  At the time, they were terribly risque, but today would get not a second look.  The ads caused an avalanche of protest among other companies and the public.  There were days when Springs received over a thousand letters, mainly from women, complaining about the campaign.

Many of the letters were printed in the book, and the exhibition had lots of them scattered around to read.  It’s really interesting to read that women were actually complaining about ads that used a woman’s body to sell products.  Could it be that the 1950s housewife was really a feminist?

Colonel Springs operated on the idea that there was no such thing as bad publicity, and he was right.  The ads continued in various forms until he died in 1959.  The company was wildly successful, with the main weaving factory containing 8000 looms.

In 1948 Colonel Springs got the idea to make printed fabrics based on the girls in the ad campaign.  There were several different fabrics developed, and Springs had them made into all kinds of products.

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No photos were allowed in the exhibition, but I did stand outside and take a few shots of the clothes.   One thing that really impressed me was how the Springs family kept everything.  After reading about so many companies who threw all their historical records away, it was a treat to find one that seemed to have an idea of its cultural and historical importance.  All the items on display are from the Springs Close Family Archive.

All the pictures on the walls are the original artwork for the ads.  The second one, the girl with her skirt flying up, was the first ad in the campaign.

The first garment is a sports set of a crop top and a skirt and is made from the original print.  It still has the Cole of California tags attached.  The other two outfits, the little girl’s and the woman’s, are from a print called Persian.  The woman’s dress was by designer Carolyn Schurner.  Note the matching handbag.

This is a a view of Persian from the Spring 1961 issue of American Fabrics.

In the case in the background, you can see a cape.  I thought it was a ladies cape, but they had an ad in which Colonel Springs himself was wearing it.  In later years he assumed a fake persona, Martin McMartin St. Martin,  for some of the ads, and this is the cape he wore in the ads.  The shirt is from a print I’d never seen, and it looks like a Hawaiian shirt with sailboats and a bathing beauty, with the Springs name thrown in.

The plaid coat, which is lined in the Persian print, belonged to Colonel Springs.  His chair in his office was upholstered in the same plaid.  The other jacket is made from the Persian print.

This short video tells more about Colonel Springs and his famous campaign.

Today, we have come to accept the fact that sex sells.  The scandalous Springs ads seem quaint to us.  But there is another side to some of the ads, one that did not cause a bit of a stir at the time.  If you watched the video, you saw an ad featuring an Indian man in a hammock made from a sheet with a beautiful Indian stepping out of the hammock.  The caption reads, “A buck well spent on a Springmaid Sheet.”

The ad was criticized highly for its sexual overtones, but nowhere in the correspondence of Colonel Springs did anyone seem to notice that it was racist.  Today that ad could never be used, not because it insinuates the man and woman were having sex, but because it refers to the man as a buck.  Several years later there were other ads that referred to Black men as bucks as well.  We may have not made progress in the portrayal of women, but it is good to know progress is being made in matters of race.

Several years ago my mother-in-law, who would have been 89 at the time, recalled this ad, and how she and her sister-in-law were snickering at it.  Their mother-in-law wanted to know what was so funny, so they sheepishly showed her the ad.  She read it, and with a very confused look declared that there was nothing at all funny about Indians taking a nap.

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