Theatricality of display
Firstly, thank you all for your fascinating papers.
As a fashion historian I was particularly interested in Marlane and Jihane's papers and felt it was important that you both raised awareness of the fact both exhibitions in a sense 'bookended' Beaton's 1971 Fashion Anthology at the V&A (to which far greater attention has previously been paid).
I was especially struck by the theatricality of both the Beaton exhibition at the NPG and the Quant exhibition in 1973 and would be very interested to know whether you felt the manner in which these two exhibitions were presented reflected a wider trend occurring within curatorship at the time? Alternatively, do you feel that the theatricality of the exhibitions with their 'stage sets' - and - in the case of the Beaton exhibition - the sound effects and evocative scents - expressed a sense among 'curators' that fashion required a different mode of presentation and would attract a different 'audience'?
Thank you for your interest and kind comments. To respond to your first question, I wouldn't dare to identify this as a wider trend occurring within curatorship. For example, The Art of Fashion exhibition, held at the Costume Institute (MET New York) in 1967-68, showed a very different approach in terms of curatorial display, much less theatrical/amateurial and more classical but indeed there is a lot of other exhibitions to look at.
As I tried to explain in my presentation, i think these stage-sets, sound effect and scents were not only used for fashion exhibitions but for other types of exhibition like the theater exhibitions (I mentioned the Diaghilev and the Shakespeare ones but there were many more and it would be very interesting to dig more into this topic!), that is why i wouldn't say that only fashion required a different mode of presentation... but maybe Jihane has another point of view on the matter?
@mvdc Thanks for this response. Very helpful to know. I was interested to learn about the connections between the Beaton and other theatre exhibitions - particularly the involvement of Richard Buckle who played a major part in acquiring the Diaghilev costumes now held by the Theatre & Performance Department at the V&A Museum. As you say - lots more to investigate!
Hi Veronica. Thanks so much for watching and for your comments. And thank you too for your wonderful paper, Marlène. Like Veronica I was also struck by the brilliant coincidence of our presentations – you’ve given me much to think about in terms of positioning the Quant show within a slightly longer trajectory of fashion exhibitions and their networks in London.
I’m not sure I can speak to a wider curatorial trend at the time. But it’s worth seeing these exhibitions as part of a much longer history of theatrical techniques being used in the display of dress/fashion (which Marlène has pointed to). Julia Petrov has a great chapter on this in Fashion, History, Museums (2019) where she discusses the influence of tableaux vivants as well as mentioning the theatre design backgrounds of several early dress curators.
But in terms of the curators requiring more specialised, spectacular approaches to fashion… If I just speak to the Quant and 1971 Beaton shows: In dealing with contemporary fashion I think the links/tensions (and perhaps competition) with the commercial side of fashion became really important. So they seemed to be more open to bringing the industry into the museum (through adjunct curators and designers for example) and there seems to be a keener sense of the increasingly spectacular and animated ways in which the public were viewing and experiencing fashion at the time, i.e. through photography, advertising, new modes of commercial display, fashion shows etc.
So while there was already a history of theatricality in dress display, it seems as though contemporary fashion consumption offered up new patterns of experience that these museums were tapping into through design. If that makes sense!
There are probably many more answers to your question though, so it’s definitely something I’ll be thinking about further – thank you!
Thanks again Veronica and thank you so much Jihane for your enlightening presentation (indeed during my PhD I did a bit of research on the Mary Quant exhibition but couldn't have access to all the amazing materials you showed!) and explanation.
To come back to the question of the relationship between fashion industry and the industry, I guess we must credit again Diana Vreeland at the MET and Beaton at the NPG/V&A but we shall not forget that this rather uninhibited relationship today has created controversies during the 70s and 80. Indeed this opening was denounced by the museums curators themselves (the keeper of the collection who did not really appreciate the vision of some special consultant or external curator) and by art critics if we refer to the YSL exhibition (1983-1984) which was fiercely criticized by Robert Storr from the Art in America journal : "Fusing the ying and yang of vanity and cupidity, the YSL show was the equivalent of turning gallery space over to General Motors for a display of Cadillacs." (February 1987) and not to forget that after this exhibition and the bad reviews it received, the Costume Institute has not renewed this experience before 2005 with the Chanel exhibition. But you probably know all this story!! just wanted to recall that these pioneer exhibitions (Beaton, Quant, YSL) paved the way in that sense and raised interesting questions on the role of museums and their relationship with the industry, but it took a long time for them to legitimate this relationship. I hope I am clear enough (sorry for my english!)
Anyway, if you want to push further this conversation, here is my email: firstname.lastname@example.org
All the Best!
Apologies for the delayed response! But you're absolutely right, Marlène. The openness to industry didn't extend to everyone (and funnily enough the commercial risks of MQL even worried the UK government at the time). So these really were experiments that didn't fully take hold again until much later. But, as they still do now, I think those relationships certainly opened up new opportunities for design and alternative frameworks for interpretation to play with, if only for a short time.
Yes, I'd love to chat more! I'm at email@example.com