The Fashion Show
May 27 — September 15, 2011
Clothing protects and decorates the body but it also communicates who we are and who we wish to be. Apparel and adornment simultaneously construct and express a person’s identity. Clothing can signal gender, rank, economic and social status, occupation, age, beliefs, membership in a group, individuality, and personal character. What are you wearing today?
The Fashion Show presents works from the Art Center’s permanent collections—prints, books, photographs, and sculptures made from the 15th to the late 20th century—in which clothing, adornment, and hairstyles play a starring role. The artists and engravers who depicted these well-dressed individuals dazzle us with their powers of observation and masterful renderings of decorative details, the weight and textures of fabric, and the sense of light.
The exhibition features a large cast of characters, including royalty and nobility, aristocrats, merchants, soldiers, a Sac and Fox Indian chief, priests, artists, intellectuals, fashionable bourgeoisie, cross-dressers, actors, an Iowa farmer, motorcycle riders, and even Barbie and Ken.
These individuals wear dresses, doublets, breeches, capes, coats, collars, cuffs and ruffs, laces, corsets, bustles, hats, feathers, muffs, gloves, rings, gold chains, medallions, earrings, and body piercings. Their hairstyles range from long, loose, and frizzy to elaborately-braided or constructed; and powdered wigs to shaved heads. Their fabrics include simple linen, gleaming silks, gorgeous brocades, embroideries, prints, velvets, furs, tweeds, denim, and leather. We recognize who they are, and often what they do, by what they are wearing.
Several of the most eloquent works in the exhibition are images or items of clothing without their wearers. They include a 17th-century etching of muffs and gloves; Betye Saar’s glove-held box filled with objects representing a family’s loved ones; Lesley Dill’s haunting wire dress; and a selection of fabulous accessories from the steamer trunks of Laura Barclay Kirby Edmundson, the second wife of the Art Center’s founder. These remind us that images of clothing can serve as surrogates for the human presence.
Changes in fashion and notions of beauty occur through the making and viewing of pictures. People dress in response to—or rebel against—images of clothing that they see in prints, paintings, photographs, film, advertising, shop windows, and mirrors. Images record and create how people dress, and these pictures trigger new aspirations, new desires, and new images.
This exhibition was organized by Amy N. Worthen, curator of prints and drawings.
Lenders to the exhibition: Doreen V. and Kirk M. Blunck
The Des Moines Art Center thanks the Des Moines Art Center Print Club for their generous support of this exhibition.