Fashion and art combine
WHERE FASHION AND ART COMBINE
In Florence, the Uffizi Galleries has opened its doors to Traces: Letting Fashion Drive You. This unique show for fashion lovers and travellers is a stage for the creative vision of museum curators, an appeal to remember forgotten works and an international dialogue between artists and designers who represent a multi-faceted century from various vantage points.
Paintings and sculptures from 20th-century artists create harmonious or provocative conversation pieces when paired with fashion of the same period. Azzedine Alaïa linear tube dresses are a successful match for the quasi obsessive symbol-inspired painting by Abstractionist Giuseppe Capogrossi (that once made his painter-wife Costanza Mennyey question his mental health due to the frequency with which he painted these symbols).
Meanwhile, those who dream of the grandeur of ancient Greece will appreciate the pairing up of two interesting pieces: Eternal Language, a dreamlike painting with Hellenistic vestals by Giulio Bargellini, and the for-opera gown designed by Roberto Capucci in the 1960s with Maria Callas in mind during her role as a vestal in Norma.
The Pitti Palace’s journey-inspired show is a good fit for summer, and several installations remind us of the musts of stylish travel – gloves, hats, glasses and scarves, not to mention vintage carry-on bags and necessaries for on-the-road manicures and even travel-inspired toys, such as the tin and wooden cars enjoyed in Elisabeth
Chaplin’s intense but playful portrait of her blueeyed nephew Robert.
But the little boy is not the only Robert worth looking for in the exhibition – there’s Roberto Cavalli, with his usual fondness for animals, whose colourful suede garment with multitextured applications depicts a parrot. It’s a happy throw-back to Pasquarosa Marcelli’s flashy oil-on-canvas representation of the tropical bird, painted in the 1930s.
Rebel souls who recall the 1968 revolutions will like visions of Fiorucci, who worked with Warhol and Haring on his creations complemented with a tapestry-like work by painter Anna Sanesi. But nostalgia pervades Traces in more ways than one - fashionistas will remember that the Palace’s Sala Bianca was where the Italian fashion ‘industry’ was born when entrepreneur Giovanni Battista Giorgini organised the first fashion show there in 1951, featuring many of the designers on exhibit today, including Jole Veneziani, Mila Schön and Gianfranco Ferré. Overall, it’s a celebration of ‘places to go’ and ‘people to see’.
Museum means ‘honourable mention’
The Pitti’s Fashion and Costume Museum is the only civic museum in Italy dedicated to fashion. It takes up more than a dozen rooms in the Palazzina della Meridiana, one of the pavilions of the Pitti Palace, with views of the Boboli Gardens. Because the Pitti was originally purchased with the dowry money of Spanish-born Grand Duchess Eleonora de Toledo, the much-loved wife of Cosimo I de’ Medici, it seems fitting to begin a description of the museum’s impressive 6,000-piece collection with its most prized historical garment: Eleonora de’ Toledo’s funeral dress, made famous from her portrait by Bronzino.
What was once called the 'Costume Gallery’ (now a quickly expanding full-fledged museum) was founded in 1983 and its notable menagerie of garments and fashion accessories, underwear and costume jewellery span primarily from the 17th century to present. It includes court and gala gowns, couture dresses and ready-to-wear
garments, as well as theatrical and film costumes. In recent years, its historic collection has been boosted by creations by Valentino, Versace, Armani, Missoni and St Laurent, to name a few. Most pieces are displayed on mannequins, whose bodies are typical of the period in which the piece was made. Thus some ‘female’ mannequins are fitted with corsets and others are not, to reflect the tastes of the times.
Since I am particularly interested in shining a light on museums’ hidden spaces and forgotten art, no description of Pitti’s Fashion and Costume Museum would be complete without mentioning its fascinating new deposit facility, one of the only climate-controlled storage venues in the multigallery palace. Equally important is the museum’s fabric laboratory, where the Medici accessories are preserved; its precious textile conservation workshop is responsible for restoring and maintaining the whole of its collection.
Curator means creative
Many people are impressed by Florence for the big art names that have made the city great. I am one of them. But my admiration for the city goes further and ‘steps’ into modern times. Florence is often considered one of the ‘cradles’ of Western art, and the ‘hand that rocks the cradle’ belongs to its female curators. More than 30 women curators support the city’s many monumental museums and the show Tracce 2018 is representative of a meeting of the minds.
Simonella Condemi, curator of Pitti’s Modern Art Gallery, and Caterina Chiarelli, curator of the palace’s Museum of Fashion and Costume, came together to conjure one of the most original exhibitions of the season. I caught up with Dr Chiarelli when the exhibition opened and asked her what message her newest show communicates.
“The show is called Tracce (Traces) because the paintings and sculptures from Pitti’s Modern Art Gallery leave their mark on our fashion museum by being displayed here. The art ‘mingles’ with the clothes and accessories displayed in each room, ideally and visually. They create a harmonious
The real advantage of a show like this one is that it emphasises points of interweaving and entanglement that can exist between different artistic languages
dialogue and become attuned with each other. Each installation helps uncover the affinities in the pieces grouped together, and they enhance each other reciprocally. What begins as a purely aesthetic brand of affinity or contrast morphs into a conceptual conversation, allowing us to have a deeper experience of each media.”
I was also keen to find out if she thought it was important to display works normally in storage, particularly those authored by women. She replied “We are looking at two different realities that are both similar and different. Pitti’s Museum of Fashion and Costume gets its life-blood from its storage deposits, because fabric-based craftsmanship cannot be permanently exhibited in the museum for reasons of conservation, particularly when not in display cases.
"So, the clothes on show must often be rotated and substituted by others from our storerooms. With regards to the Modern Art Gallery and its participation in this joint show, we decided to combine each fashion installation with in-storage artworks that otherwise do not have hopes of being delivered into the museum spotlight due to a lack of appropriate space. In the case of both museums, our taking works out of storage is very meaningful because it also shines a light on creative work done by women for women… and as far as fashion in concerned, their silent creativity garnered no name recognition.”
A shared quest
Pitti’s Fashion and Costume Museum reminds us that apparel is one of the most approachable art forms. It’s an integral part of our life, because whatever we wear immediately becomes part of our own identity. Stylists, like artists, are very much a sign of the times. ‘A sign of the times’ is exactly what I believe Traces to be. ‘Driven by fashion’ is en route to 360-degree creativity. The words of co-curator Simonella Condemi sum up many of my own feelings. “Getting works out of storage is not only important but necessary,” Dr Condemi explains, “since the Modern Art Gallery, at least at present, does not have the exhibition space to show these 20th-century works. Because I am well aware of their unique value, displaying them has been a true quest for me for many years.
“The real advantage of a show like this one,” the show’s co-creator continues, “is that it emphasises points of interweaving and entanglement that can exist between different artistic languages, tastes and formal expression inside the same cultural climate. It’s what you might call ‘reaching an understanding in art’.”
Far left: Art and fashion together at the Pitti Palace Above: Giulio Bargellini Eternal Language, 1899 Palazzo Pitti’s Gallery of Modern Art Left: Eleanor of Toledo with her son Giovanni, painted by Bronzino in 1545. A much repeated myth says this dress served as her shroud. However, newer research has examined her funeral dress and found it to be another, although very similar in design
Far left, top: Self Portrait by Elisabeth Chaplin Far left, bottom: Pasquarosa Bertoletti MarcelliParrot, c.1930. Palazzo Pitti's Gallery of Modern Art Left: A display as part of the exhibition, Tracce 18
Below: Images from the 2018 show Tracce curated by Simonella Condemi and Caterina Chiarelli