In a sense, you might think of the $ 25 million given to the Denver Art Museum this month as an extremely generous gift card. After all, DAM will use it to fund the kind of exclusive shopping trips most people can only dream of.

A few pieces by Yves Saint Laurent, perhaps? Or a Dior dress? Maybe a Coco Chanel classic or something more outrageous by Alexander McQueen or Jean Paul Gaultier? So many Armanis and Balenciaga and Miyakes to sort out, not to mention the Rhiannas and Sean Combs to consider.

It’s fun to think about the things DAM might buy, although the purchases are sure to be serious – and strategic – as the museum spends money on polishing holdings of its textile and fashion collection.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Red, White and Bold: Masterworks of Navajo Design, 1840-1870 exhibition by curator Nancy Blomberg at the Denver Art Museum. Denver. May 22, 2013. DAM curators select their ten favorite exhibits, one from each of the ten exhibits that make up the mega-show “Spun”.

But the money, from a donor who chooses to remain anonymous, is surely transformational for the museum, allowing DAM to grow into a serious repository of dresses, costumes, shoes, scarves, handbags and other accessories, as well as ‘a national center for research in the world of fashion design.

More than half of the donation, approximately $ 15 million, goes to an endowment that will fund operations, exhibitions and a new Institute of Textile Art and Fashion that will support the scientific study of how design has reflected and influenced the culture at large over time.

The institute, which will support symposia, publications, conferences and more, will be led by DAM’s internal mode expert, Florence Müller.

The remaining $ 10 million goes towards an endowment supporting acquisitions that could total up to $ 500,000 per year, which is not a bad sum to buy vintage haute couture or sketches, fabrics, machines and the like. artifacts that produced it.

The new emphasis on fashion reflects an ongoing trend in the art museum industry around the world. Over the past decade, encyclopedic institutions that once viewed fashion as secondary to painting and sculpture have brought design exhibitions to the fore, hosting high profile exhibitions by names as diverse as Thierry Mugler and Oscar. de La Renta or by centering group exhibitions around objects like shoes, or by focusing on influential design movements.

The general public, who have become obsessed with red carpet glamor and cutting-edge reality TV shows, responded by coming in droves. In the art world, fashion is suddenly all the rage.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Sari. India, Gujarat, 1800-50. Denver Art Museum. Denver. May 22, 2013. DAM curators select their ten favorite exhibits, one from each of the ten exhibits that make up the mega-show “Spun”.

DAM had his personal epiphany in fashion in 2012 when he took his chance on “Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective”, a high-profile multimedia extravaganza that featured 200 dresses, costumes and other items created by the iconic French designer . The exhibition, put together by then-independent curator Müller, was expensive to produce and difficult to sell to an audience trained to expect after-inquiry into Impressionism.

It turns out that was what customers wanted; you could not get a ticket. DAM had to extend its opening hours to accommodate the crowds.

“I really didn’t know if this would work,” museum director Christoph Heinrich said this week, recounting DAM’s recent moves towards fashion. “But it really worked like a charm. And then we were able to hire Florence.

When Müller entered full-time in 2015, things moved quickly. The department she took over – formerly known as “Textiles” but quickly changed to “Textiles and Fashion” – staged a series of high-profile exhibitions that were both commercially and artistically sound. Among them: “Dior: from Paris to the world” in 2019 and “Shockwave: Japanese fashion design of the 80s and 90s” in 2017.

This year, “Paris to Hollywood: the fashion and influence of Véronique and Gregory Peck”, ended in July. But the show, fueled by 100 outfits linked to names like André Courrèges and Givenchy, was DAM’s tightest offering of the year so far.

With the shows came half a decade of buying. DAM invested in its fledgling fashion companies, with Müller as the designer of taste.

“We really didn’t have anything of importance there, maybe one or two items,” Heinrich said. “Over the years, she has made literally hundreds of acquisitions, all very strategic and often in connection with exhibitions.

The purpose of the collection, said Heinrich, is to pick up items that are influential or ahead of their time or that sum up the “incredible accumulation of ideas” that high fashion designers mix together.

Cyrus McCrimmon, Denver Post File

Members of the media presented the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit at the Denver Art Museum on Thursday.

“They are able to push the boundaries of what a dress is or what fashion is, in areas that are much more artistic and have a lot more to do with sculpture than the dress you are going to wear tonight,” he said. -he declares. .

Beyond their visual appeal, the best fashion items are able to capture changes in social thought. Designers use the clothes to explore femininity, but also feminism, power dynamics and historical changes in a number of areas. This deliberate side of fashion will be taken seriously by the new institute, which will join DAM’s other two resident research operations: the Petrie Institute of Western American Art and the Frederick & Jan Mayer Center, which focuses on pre-Columbian art. and Spanish colonial.

“We have the objects and want to make sure that we really explore them and tell the stories of the objects,” says Heinrich.

Eric Lutzens, The Denver Post

DENVER, CO – APRIL 9: Eliana Grossman of Morrison, CO takes a photo of some of the clothes in the “Favorite Dressmakers: Andr ?? Courr? Ges” in section four of the exhibition Paris to Hollywood: Fashion and L influence of Veronique and Gregory Peck in downtown Denver at the Denver Art Museum on Friday, April 9, 2021. (Photo by Eric Lutzens / The Denver Post)

And, he points out, this also applies to the more traditional textile objects in the collection. DAM is quick to show off its entire heritage, which includes “more than 5,000 objects from Asia, Europe, and North and South America, ranging from archaeological textiles to contemporary fiber art. “.

They are not intended to be sidelined, although it can be difficult for a quilt, blanket or serape to compete for attention with something as flashy as a pair of Manolo heels. Blahnik.

The test of maintaining this balance comes when the main museum building, closed for renovation for over a year, reopens in October with the relocation of the collection.


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