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Exhibiting Fashion Symposium Wrap-up

My next round of posts come a bit late, as exhibitions I will speak of are closed/due to close within the week. March and April found me tending to a lot of family business, but I would still love to share the things I saw and learned over that time.


On March 8th, the Museum at FIT held its twenty-first symposium on the timely topic of the fashion exhibition. Taking its cue from Exhibitionism: 50 Years of The Museum at FIT held from February--April 2019, the symposium brought together fifteen of the leading curators and scholars within the field to present on various aspects of fashion within museums. Here, I have compiled my condensed, personal takeaways from many of the talks that day. In bold, you will find my initial reactions; feel free to engage in these ideas with me in the comments down below!


Circe Henestrosa and Ana Elena Mallet in conversation with Tanya Melendez-Escalante.

Dr. Julia Petrov, “The History of Fashion Curation” -- The earliest documented fashion exhibition occurred around the turn of the twentieth century; one of the longest running displays of fashion being that of the First Ladies' gowns in the Smithsonian Museum, beginning in 1915. Clothing in museum exhibitions ultimately evoke an "othernesses", as the museum divorces the garment from its original context. A retail parallel to exhibitions exists, and there has been a pull between the retail showroom and exhibition design throughout history - who influenced who? (Rose Bertin's shop featured clothing behind glass - possibly one of the earliest examples of this)

Success of an exhibition = does the object in front of you defend your curatorial argument? Do you curate an idea? Or do you curate objects?


Dr. Alexandra Palmer, “Fashion Exhibitions: The Good, the Bad, and the Pointless” -- Curation provides insight to what fashion is -- its function and influence is interwoven in to our cultural and social lives. Retail used museum displays as inspiration for store layouts -- the focus was solely on objects to sell products.

From "Scholarship and Curation" presented by Christopher Breward.

Dr. Christopher Breward, "Scholarship and Curation" -- less national funding has created an emphasis on blockbuster shows - speaking for UK but same can be said in US.

The front and back space of museums work together (gallery & storerooms); scholarship flows through both. Museums are about people. Objects mean nothing if they're not engaging with someone.


Amy de la Haye, “Teaching Fashion Curation” -- After death, people donate items/clothing of loved ones because once in a museum they will retain their meaning. (does this pull against the fact that taken out of their context, it also elevates the objects to an otherness? It retains and also gives new meaning or a weightier significance to objects. Stops them in time. Separates them from the flow of time and space.)


Dr. Marco Pecorari, “Contemporary Fashion Exhibitions in Paris” -- Discourse on fashion in museums in Paris. YSL marked garments M for the museum. Museums are places of rhetorical autonomies. YSL museum straddles the museum + retail space.Blurred lines/connection possible.

Exhibition reviews can add to an exhibition. Museums as commercial ventures - Atelier EB Passerby - new in Paris


Simona Segre Reinach, "Fashion Exhibitions in Italy" -- The "missing" museum; no official fashion museum in Italy. So surprising!


Elizabeth Way and Joy L. Bivins, “The African Diaspora in Fashion Exhibitions” -- Black Fashion Museum in Harlem founded by Louis K. Alexander. Find it on Google Arts and Culture here. Bivins spoke at length of the Ebony Fashion Fair and what it did to advance the careers of black models and expose the black community to fashion on a national level.


Judith Clark presenting "[On Precision &] Experimentation in Fashion Exhibitions."

Judith Clark, "[On Precision &] Experimentation in Fashion Exhibitions" -- Recruiting the new to give value to the past, ex: Clark commissioned Solange Knowles to record sound clips based on the Chloe alphabet for the Chloe archive. In evaluating archives, where does the value lie & who is it relevant to? When translating archive history/narratives into exhibitions, how far can you go before it isn't communicated anymore? The idea of the attribute -- clue to the protagonist and story. How much context do we need?


The Exhibiting Fashion Symposium livestream can be revisited here.


For a nice tie-in to this topic, check out "The Growing Popularity Of Fashion Exhibitions" by Olivia Pinnock for Forbes, written from the European perspective.

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