The 2017 “Irving Penn: The Centennial” exhibition in Paris is a guaranteed highlight of the Grand Palais’ autumn season programme. Marking the centenary birth of Irving Penn (1917-2009), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Réunion des musées nationaux– Grand Palais, in collaboration with The Irving Penn Foundation, organized one of the most comprehensive retrospective since Penn’s death, and the first of its kind in France.
Irving Penn is regarded as one of the most important photographers of the 20th century. To many, he is most well-known for his portraits of notable societal figures. However, as a ‘Documenting Fashion’ student, I see him as inseparable from 20th century fashion; his name alone conjures up some of the most iconic images in fashion studies. His celebrated fashion photos taken during his time at Vogue including Tobacco on Tongue (1951), Balenciaga Mantle Coat (1950), and The Twelve Most Photographed Models (1947), are all on display in this exhibition.
This retrospective looks back over Penn’s seventy-year career “with more than 235 photographic prints all produced by the artist himself, as well as a selection of his drawings and paintings.” The exhibition is laid out on two levels, covering a range of genres and themes that were of great importance to Penn’s career. The ground floor starts with his still life and early street photographs taken using his first Rolleiflex in 1938, and spans the 40s to early 60s-era, including his early days at Vogue. The portfolios of Cuzco indigenous people, small trade series and classical ‘portraits of personalities’ are all covered in this period. The upper floor showcases his advertising and personal projects. These ranged from his series of nudes, to cigarette butts and four major series of other detritus, titled: Street Material, Archaeology, Vessels and Underfoot.
The exhibition is successful in showing all these facets of Penn’s career and his wide-ranging interest in subject matter. But truth be told, all these genres and themes can be split into two major categories: objects and humans. And in my opinion, his most interesting photos are still the ones he takes of people, whether it is of fashion models, celebrity portraits, or indigenous villagers. These photographs reveal his instinctive grasp of material, weight, pattern and the tactile quality of a garment. Paired with his knack for posing subjects, Penn’s photographs of people are both visually and psychologically more interesting for viewers.
The Irving Penn centennial exhibition was originally shown this year between April and July at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Lucky for those in Europe, the same show will be exhibiting at the Grand Palais in Paris until the 29th of January, 2018, before heading to Germany and Brazil.
I was thrilled to learn that my local art museum, Omaha’s Joslyn Art Museum, was to stage an exhibition of French jewelry this summer. Bijoux Parisiens: French Jewelry from the Petit Palais, Paris was the Joslyn’s first jewelry exhibition and their first partnership with a Parisian museum. The exhibition featured 70 pieces of jewelry and luxury accessories and over 100 works on paper from the Petit Palais’ collection. The Petit Palais’ Parisian heritage was an important factor within the exhibition since Paris has been home to a continuous tradition of jewelry production since the Renaissance. Bijoux Parisiens highlighted over 300 years of French jewelry innovation and creativity and placed the precious stones and luxury items in a historical context to emphasize the way in which French jewelry reflects the aristocratic wearer’s position in society and the designer’s creativity. While some of the artifacts spotlighted artists who are lost to history, others pointed to the mastery of France’s famous jewelry maisons such as Boucheron, Cartier, and Van Cleef & Arpels. Through its use of contemporary fashion plates and prints from popular French magazines, Bijoux Parisiens also highlighted the intimate relationship between jewelry and fashion. The sartorial aspect of the exhibition was clear from the beginning as the first section of wall-text was accompanied by an 1884 portrait of a young woman by artist Paul Baudry. The painting’s subject, Madame Louis Singer, wears an off-the-shoulder black gown with delicate ruffles down the skirt and a bustle. The sumptuousness of her dress is enhanced by her jewelry, a diamond and pearl brooch at her bosom, double-strand pearl bracelet, sapphire and diamond ring, and dainty diamond earrings. The combination of Madame Singer’s smart black dress and glittering jewelry announce her as a woman of refined taste and high status.
Organized chronologically, the exhibition began with engravings by Gilles L’Égaré dating to the 1660s. These drawings of various ring and chain designs were produced to train apprentices and mark the artist’s ownership of the designs. The earliest piece in the exhibition was a pendant of gold, enamel, rubies, and pearls. I was struck by the intricacy and scale of this pendant, which was about three inches tall and featured a woman embracing two children, symbolizing the Christian virtue of charity. Both the early drawings and jewelry pieces set the tone for an innovative and ornate exhibition.
There was little evidence of eighteenth-century splendor in the exhibition, but a large portion of Bijoux Parisiens was dedicated to nineteenth-century France and the link between its tumultuous political climate and jewelry aesthetics. Napoleon’s reign ended the repression of luxury during the French Revolution and encouraged the privilege of excess. The renewed production of jewelry, like the visual arts and fashions of the period, featured neoclassical designs and a revival of ancient art. Cameo necklaces, bracelets, and brooches as well as drawings of cameos featured prominently in the exhibition. Cameos in particular were a staple of Napoleon’s court because they alluded to antiquity and displayed wealth while their semi-precious materials were affordable to the aristocrats who were still recovering from the Revolution. Contemporary fashion illustrations from Germany in the exhibition show typical neoclassic, columnar gowns with deep necklines that made for easy display of large cameo necklaces such as the one below.
A wall broke Bijoux Parisiens into two distinctive spaces and appropriately separated twentieth-century artifacts from the earlier jewelry and forced visitors to pass a physical threshold into the turn of the century section of the exhibition. The radically different Art Nouveau style that dominated the turn of the century materialized in Bijoux Parisiens in jewelry and graphite drawings. An amazing selection horn and enamel hair pins and brooches by René Lalique exemplified the natural plant motifs and insect-adorned designs of the new style.
Perhaps my favorite artifacts in Bijoux Parisiens was the selection of color lithographs by George Barbier, Edouard Halouze, George Lepape, and Charles Jacqueau. The prints revealed the synergy between the radical fashions and jewelry designs of the early twentieth century. Works by Lepape from the Gazette du Bonton from 1912-1915 featured Paul Poiret’s radically simple and exotic styles such as his ‘lamp-shade’ dress and turban looks accessorized with equally elegant bangles and long necklace strands. The First World War slowed French jewelry production and wiped away aristocratic dynasties, leading to a new social order and new design aesthetics. Color lithographs from the 1920s expressed the new, modernized forms embraced by French jewelry designers. An ad for Van Cleef & Arpels illustrated by Edouard Halouze presents a woman surveying her Van Cleef & Arpels collection. The simple strands of pearls and bracelets she wears compliments the striking simplicity of her low-cut, bright red dress and in-vogue cropped hairstyle.
I adored this exhibition (so much so that I visited three times) and although the exhibition is now closed so I cannot suggest visiting, its display of French jewelry innovation sheds an important light on the intimate relationship between fashion, jewelry design and French history.
Want/need a break from your dissertation writing, busy city life or 9 to 5 job? With the Easter holiday around the corner (plus Brexit being trending topic again), I thought I would share some of my personal favourite fashion-related temporary exhibitions that are on in museums all over Europe during the (UK) Easter holidays.
I can’t think of a better excuse to travel and tour wonderful cities, eat delicious food, immerse yourself into the richness of other European cultures and whilst doing so, explore some of the most interesting fashion exhibitions of this year outside the UK.
MUSEE DES ARTS DÉCORATIFS (Paris), from 1 December 2016 to 23 April 2017.
“Tenue Correcte Exigée: Quand Le Vêtement Fait Scandale” revisits the scandals that have marked the great turning points in fashion history from the 14th century to today. Featuring outfits, portraits and objects, it explores the liberties taken with dress codes and how they breached moral values. The robe volante, women in trousers, men in skirts, female tuxedo, miniskirt… (with examples as Marlene Dietrich in a tuxedo, Elsa Schiaparelli’s jumpsuit and Yves Saint Laurent’s female tuxedo, among others).
PALAIS GALLERIA (Paris), from April 27th to August 13th 2017.
“Dalida, Une Garde-Robe De La Ville À La Scène” pays homage to Dalida with an exhibition of her wardrobe, recently donated to the museum. Dressed by the greatest designers both on and off-stage, in haute couture or in prêt-à-porter, Dalida has remained an immensely popular star in France. Her wardrobe always followed the movements of fashion, but it also reflected her artistic development.
From March 8th to July 16th 2017
“Balenciaga, L’oeuvre Au Noir”. Spanish Season – A Palais Galliera Extra-Mural Exhibition pays homage to the couturier with an extra-mural exhibition at the Musée Bourdelle. The exhibition resonates with the black tones of an alchemist of haute couture: variations of black repeated in over a hundred of pieces from the Galliera collections and the archives of Maison Balenciaga. This exhibition opens the Palais Galliera’s Spanish season, which will continue with Costumes espagnols entre ombre et lumière (‘Spanish costumes from dark to bright’) at the Maison Victor Hugo (21 June – 24 September 2017) and will finish with Mariano Fortuny at the Palais Galliera (4 October 2017 – 7 January 2018).
MODEMUSEUM HASSELT (Hasselt, Belgium), from 4th March to 3rd September 2017.
“Across Japan” features the fascinating innovations introduced by the Japanese avant-garde designers and their younger peers in combination with newer Western interpretations of the ‘Japanese’ aesthetics. At the same time, the show seeks to illustrate that this concern with Japan in the West is nothing new and has a long tradition going back to the seventeenth century, which is explored through a set of themes and a selection of silhouettes supplemented with visuals aiming at pinpointing the peculiar nature of it. The exhibition is part of the Yokoso Festival – 25 Years Japanese Garden in Hasselt.
MoMu (Antwerp, Belgium), from 31st March to 27th August 2017.
“Margiela, the Hermes Years” will display Belgian stylist Martin Margiela’s Hermès collections from 1997 to 2003 for the first time. As well as this, the tribute exhibition also explores the relationship during these years between these collections and his own label, Maison Martin Margiela. Groundbreaking deconstruction and timeless luxury – the two worlds of designer Martin Margiela – are the starting point of this exhibition.
STAALICHE KUNSTSAMMULUNGEN (Dresden, Germany, State Art Museum), 3 March to 5 June 2017.
“Women Cross Media. Photography, Porcelain and Prints from China and Japan” is a presentation in the context of the exhibition Dresden • Europe • World and is dedicated to the cross-media issue of how femininity was portrayed in images in East Asian art of the early 18th to the late 19th century – in a dialogue between objects from the Porcelain Collection, the Photography Collection of the Museum of Ethnology and from the Kupferstich-Kabinett.
KUNSTGEWEBERMUSEUM (Berlin, Germany), Until March 2017 (only for early birds, but I had to include it, looks fantastic!).
“Uli Richter Revisited – Fashion Visionary, Teacher, Inspiration” coincides with Uli Richter’s 90th birthday, and features some of the highlights of the Berlin fashion designer’s work. As one of the youngest major designers working in Berlin in the early 1950s, he played an important role in forging a ‘made in Berlin’ style. Over the more than 40 years in which he worked as a fashion designer, he succeeded in reinvigorating and consolidating Berlin’s reputation as an international centre of fashion. Clothing, design sketches, and photographs, provide the viewer with a glimpse into Berlin’s young fashion scene in the 1980s and 1990s.
WIEN MUSEUM KARLSPLATZ (Viena, Austria), from 24th November 2016 to 26th February 2017
“Robert Haas. Framing Two Worlds.” Robert Haas (1898-1997) is among the great Austrian-American photographers of the twentieth century. He began his artistic career in Vienna as a graphic designer before studying photography. In the 1930s, Haas created stirring works of social reportage and sensitive depictions of everyday life, along with portraits and object studies of subjects in the city. On the way to his exhile to New York, Haas documented the American way of life beyond the big cities as well as public figures. The exhibition presents his virtually unknown oeuvre to the public for the first time: at once an artistic discovery of the first order and a richly detailed panorama of the times.
LIVRUSTKAMMAREN (Stockholm, Sweden), from 15th September to 19th March 2017.
“Renaissance fashion in paper. The Medici family outside the frame”. Impressive costumes, opulent creations, extravagant forms and strong colours. Lace, frills, trains, rosettes and flounces. A Renaissance collection – inspired by the most powerful Renaissance family, the Medicis. The collection has been entirely made of paper by the Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave. Now her most extravagant collection is being presented in the Royal Armoury in the Royal Palace, for the first time in both Sweden and Scandinavia.
MUSEO SALVATORE FERRAGAMO (Florence, Italy), from 19th May 2016 to 17th May 2017.
“Across Art and Fashion”, analyses the forms of dialogue between these two worlds: reciprocal inspirations, overlaps and collaborations, from the experiences of the Pre-Raphaelites to those of Futurism, and from Surrealism to Radical Fashion. It focuses on the work of Salvatore Ferragamo, who was fascinated and inspired by the avant-garde art movements of the 20th century, on several ateliers of the Fifties and Sixties and the advent of the culture of celebrities. It then examines the experimentation of the Nineties and whether in the contemporary cultural industry we can still talk about two separate worlds or if we are dealing with fluid roles.
GUCCI MUSEUM (Florence, Italy), from February 2017.
“The Tom Ford Rooms” showcase women’s and men’s ready-to-wear in one room and accessories in another. The aim of the spaces is to remind people of the way in which Ford encouraged self-expression through developing a distinctive, sensual aesthetic for the House. The decoration of the rooms and the way in which the items on display are presented contribute to a mood of provocative sensuality that perfectly reflects the image that Ford created for Gucci while he was at the helm of the design team at the label.
CRISTOBAL BALENCIAGA MUSEOA (Biarritz, Spain), 6th October 2016 to 7th May 2017.
“Coal And Velvet. Views On Popular Costumes By Ortiz Echagüe And Balenciaga” explores the romantic vision and the aesthetic revision that Cristóbal Balenciaga, in his Haute Couture creations, and Ortiz Echagüe, in his photographic narrations of traditional Spain, make of popular costumes. It establishes a dialogue offering interpretations of a reality, that of popular costumes, which was already becoming extinct in the early 20th century and which both, through works of undeniable artistic quality, give validity and bestow on them a timeless quality.
“Cristóbal Balenciaga. Un Legado Atemporal”, 1st January 2016 to 7 May, 2017.
One of the most influential couturiers of the 20th century and a tireless perfectionist with an exceptional creative talent that inspired him to design models that were audacious in both their form and aesthetics, taking the world by storm and setting the indisputable trend season after season. His command of the craft earned him the respect of his colleagues and he reigned supreme in the international haute couture world until he retired in 1968.