Category: Reviews Page 2 of 3

Installing Gluck

Gluck: Art and Identity opens on the 18th November at Brighton Museum and is a celebration and investigation into the world of Gluck, both artistically and personally. The exhibition is part of the ‘Wear it Out’ project between the Centre for Fashion Curation at London College of Fashion, UAL and Brighton Museum. The three exhibition creators – Amy de la Haye and Jeffrey Horsley of the Centre for Fashion Curation, and Martin Pel, Curator of Fashion and Textiles at the Museum – have created this exhibition in a truly collaborative way. Their statement of intent was to ‘create’ an exhibition – they do not differentiate between curator and exhibition-maker.

Paintings by Gluck. Oil on canvas. (Clockwise from right 1. Lords and Ladies, 1936, 2. Snowdrops, 1924, 3. Still Life With Scallop Shell and Blossom, 1972, 4. Orchestra, 1967, 5. Convolvulous, 1940 6. The Pleidaes, 1940-43)

The concept for the exhibition originated from a collection review of the Fashion and textiles at Brighton Museum, conducted by Amy and Martin, where they found a store of beautiful dresses somewhat surprisingly attributed to Gluck, who was renowned for her masculine dress and androgynous look.

Gluck portrait, Angus McBean, 1937

Born Hannah Gluckstein in 1895 to a very wealthy family who founded the UK-wide chain of Lyons tea houses, Gluck rejected traditional expectations of a woman of her social standing by running away to join an artists’ colony in Lamorna, Cornwall, wearing masculine clothing and engaging in relationships with women. She became well known for her paintings of subjects such as the theatre, portraits of society figures and floral arrangements. She showed her uniqueness in the three-stepped frames she developed and patented, as well as her refusal to subscribe to other artistic schools or movements of the time or indeed show alongside other artists.

Artist Smock worn by Gluck. Natural coloured linen, c.1920’s-1950’s. Brighton Museum Collection.

Gluck Collarbox.  Brighton Museum Collection,  November, 2017

However Gluck received just as many column inches for her ‘look’ which incorporated men’s plus-fours and barber-cut cropped hair. She demanded to be known as just Gluck with no prefix, and was singular in both name and artist path.

The collection of clothes Gluck donated to the Museum just before her death are conspicuously lacking in any menswear or masculine ephemera. Whatever items of menswear Gluck had were lost to a large jumble sale held after her death. The collection’s only indicators of Gluck’s gender fluidity are two painters’ smocks and a round leather box used to store stiffened collars.

This absence led the creators to conceive three different curatorial perspectives, as exhibition-maker Jeffrey Horsley explains: ‘the exhibition is a series of biographic fragments viewed from different perspectives – a conventional museum perspective, interventions inspired by Gluck’s own words, and installations that give a sense of an investigative process.’ Owing perhaps to the lack of scholarship on Gluck, this investigative perspective becomes almost forensic and can be seen through the use of maps, images, drawings and text.

The absent aspects of the collection Gluck donated led the creators to assume curatorial suppositions. These ideas are differentiated from the factual museum labels through their presentation on violet panels throughout the exhibition.

These violet accents act in order to queer the space through the colour’s association with the Sapphic violet, and history as a lesbian symbol. This queering of the space is acknowledged from the first instance. The moment the visitor steps into the exhibition they view a pin board on which portraits of Gluck’s female lovers are displayed; on the reverse panel are maps of locations and spaces she occupied, socially and professionally.

By using the colour violet and avoiding fixed pronouns to describe Gluck, the creators negotiate the difficulties in projecting labels such as transgender and lesbian backward to a time when such terms didn’t exist in the public consciousness, whilst celebrating Gluck’s identity and acknowledging how the artist has been claimed as an important historical figure by both the lesbian and trans community. This elegant refusal to pigeon hole or label fits with the artist’s demand to be referred to as just Gluck, without gender specificity. The colour also works effectively against the dark grey walls and helps to make the paintings in Gluck’s famous three-stepped frames stand out.

One of the only pieces of masculine ephemera, the collar box, will be shown suspended over a beautiful example of a 1920’s evening dress.  This display has been devised to deal with the absences of masculine items in the collection. The juxtaposition of these opposing items show what Gluck’s contemporaries would have been wearing, and therefore what she rejected.

Viewing the installation phase of the exhibition offered a great opportunity to see how the space is used, and how the clothes are to be shown. In the second room visitors will see a display of the floral day dresses that sparked the beginning of the exhibition.

They will also see a rather striking display of three black evening gowns that will be shown inside the metal-framed boxes developed for the recent exhibition Present Imperfect at the Fashion Space Gallery, LCF. The boxes were made with re-use in mind and here they are turned upright to frame the evening dresses.

Co-curator Martin Pel working on evening dressses. (Back: Floor-length evening dress with black lace bodice and long sleeves. Black rayon and black lace skirt over black underskirt. Made by Cresta Silks, Herts, 1930s. Front: Black silk georgette deeply pleated culotte dress with sleeveless bodice and V-shaped neckline, 1930s. Brighton Museum Collection.)

In the same room there will be a Legacy section including author Radclyffe Hall’s novel ‘The Well of Loneliness’ which was re-issued in the 1980s by Virago with Gluck’s Medallion (You and Me) 1937 as the cover image. Medallion features the striking profiles of both Gluck and her lover Nesta Obermer, who many of the dresses in Gluck’s collection are believed to have belonged to. This Virago edition brought Gluck’s work to the attention of a new generation.

This exhibition pays tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, which included the partial decriminalization of male homosexuality. Throughout this year there has been a celebration of queer lives and rights across many media and institutions, such as the Queer British Art exhibition at the Tate Britain, which featured Gluck’s self portrait as its cover image.

Installation of ‘Gluck Art and Identity’, Brighton Museum, November 2017.  Co-curators Jeffrey Horsley and Amy de-la-Haye

Gluck: Art and Identity, Brighton Museum, 18 November 2017 – 11 March 2018.

Words and pictures by Flo Nolan.

A book, edited by Amy and Martin, Gluck: Art and Identity (Yale, 2017) is available. More details can be found here

As part of the upcoming DATS conference, hosted by Brighton Museum, on 23 and 24 November 2017, Amy and Jeff will be talking about approaches to the exhibition. For more information and to book.

A symposium, hosted by LCF on Wednesday 07 February 2018 will explore Gluck, her life, art and identity. Details are forthcoming, so please look out for information on the Centre for Fashion Curation pages and Fashion Curation blog.

More about Installing Gluck

50 years of Mexican Fashion

The largest exhibition revisiting more than 50 years of fashion in Mexico and indigenous clothing came to an end in September. We had a chat with curator Ana Elena Mallet to discuss “The Art of Fashion in Mexico”, held at historical Palacio de Iturbide.

By Fernanda Sela

Palacio Iturbide, Mexico City

Palacio Iturbide, Mexico City

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Disappearing and disruptive camouflage

The natural world has always relied on deception to protect itself. From Greek philosopher Aristotle’s ponderings on the changing colours of sea creatures, to Charles Darwin ruminating on the principles of natural selection, camouflage has intrigued and bewildered for centuries.

'The Vanishing Art of Camouflage' at the University of Westminster’s Harrow campus

‘The Vanishing Art of Camouflage’ at the University of Westminster’s Harrow campus

The art of camouflage on fabric has greatly influenced the fashioning of military clothing since the mid-nineteenth century. The etymology is French and Italian, stemming from disguise, when soldiers required clothing that disguised their presence, or deceived the eye of the enemy. Artists called camoufleurs were commissioned by the French in World War 1 to design patterns based on nature that helped to literally hide soldiers, deceiving the enemy eye to aide advancement and defend front lines.

'The Vanishing Art of Camouflage' at the University of Westminster’s Harrow campus

‘The Vanishing Art of Camouflage’ at the University of Westminster’s Harrow campus

From the 1950s onwards, military deadstock and used garments, often featuring some form of camouflage fabric, flooded the second-hand markets and specialist textiles dealers – think of the Mods in their M51 parkas, and the ‘60s frogging and scarlet coats worn by the hippies. It has greatly influenced streetwear since then.

‘The Vanishing Art of Camouflage’, a small exhibition at the University of Westminster’s Harrow campus (outside of London), addresses the beguiling, deceitful craft of fashioning the hidden. Using a recently-formed and rapidly growing menswear archive that the University is developing, the display effectively captures camouflage design from utilitarian military garments through to streetwear.

The curators have also borrowed pieces from designers like Jeremy Scott and Ashish to enhance the narrative of deception, and how patterns on materials have been used to literally fool the eye.

Some of the most useful acquisitions and loans are those of menswear company Stone Island. The exhibition highlights good examples of the interrogation and manipulation of materials that the company has become known for: one garment has been dyed, bleached, dyed again and hand-painted to create a tortoise-shell effect of black, with burnt orange hues; another shimmers with camouflage of light-reflecting silver. These help chart the rise of military-inspired streetwear, and illustrate themes of crypsis (hard to see), mimesis (disguise) and motion dazzle.

The exhibition is done on a shoe-string (what exhibition isn’t?!). The interesting examples of art featuring camouflage (including Andy Warhol’s self-portrait of 1986 patterned with red, pink and blue) are printed on foam board. The labels are small, too low (some rest on the floor) and hidden (perhaps this is about the exhibition theme being taken to the extremes). There is little chance for background research to contextualise the stories (with only two information panels), and some generalisations catch in the back of the throat:

‘One could argue that menswear from the beginning of the twentieth century has been the history of camouflage, both visually and metaphorically. Unlike womenswear with its emphasis on colour, embellishment, and decoration, menswear is obsessed by deception and secrecy. Hidden details, hidden functions and hidden codes…. Menswear has always been harder to decipher.’

It is problematic to generalise that only menswear is obsessed with deception. Clothes that are coded, secretive, deceptive have existed for men and for women and those not following the gender binary for as long as fashion history has been interrogated.

It is difficult to get the whole story across but this should only encourage future researchers and curators to enlarge on this fascinating and creative subject.

What is effective about this exhibition is that menswear is focused on. That the worlds of design and fashion have drawn on utilitarian and functional fabrics designed to save lives. That many devastating political, economic and social imperatives have driven, and continue to drive, the need for these patterned fabrics. That camouflage is used to pattern toilet paper, condoms, and trainers. And fabrics, that are hard-to-see and designed to disguise the wearer in certain natural (and increasingly un-natural) environments, can be incredibly beautiful and evocative.

The exhibition also highlights what is promising to be a very useful resource, a collection of contemporary menswear for University of Westminster students, researchers and the industry to mine.

The exhibition is on until 20 November 2016 at Westminster University’s Harrow site:

Ben Whyman



Fashion Archives in Chicago

Anna Buruma, curator for the Museum & Study Collection at Central St. Martins (CSM) and Archivist at Liberty, received a Refresh grant from the university to visit the 3 different fashion collections in Chicago to learn about how staff dealt with their collections. The Fashion Resource Center (FRC), part of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), and the Fashion Study Collection, (FSC) at Colombia College are both teaching collections, while the visit to the Chicago History Museum  was inspired by their collection of Liberty garments, and Anna’s special interest in that subject.

Here, Anna reflects on the 3 collections, and the differences between the teaching collections and those in a ‘proper’ museum.

Store at Fashion Resource Center. Courtesy of the Fashion Resource Center at the School of Art Institute of Chicago

Store at Fashion Resource Center. Courtesy of the Fashion Resource Center at the School of Art Institute of Chicago

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Reigning Men at LACMA: Marley Healy reviews

In his celebrated tome Walden, Henry David Thoreau wrote that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” ultimately failing to live up to their predestined potential and recognition in the universe. However, in the current socio-political climate of the world, it might be possible that the only arena in which men are overwhelmingly underrepresented is fashion.  By Marley Healy.

(left) Waistcoat, England or France 1740s. (right) Waistcoat, France c.1730. Photo courtesy of Marley Healy

(left) Waistcoat, England or France 1740s. (right) Waistcoat, France c.1730. Photo courtesy of Marley Healy

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Encountering the Archive: Object handling workshop

The Im/Material: Encounters within the Creative Arts Archive Conference  took place at UAL on May 13 and 14 2016.  The handling sessions were an opportunity for material objects to speak.  Jane Holt ran the Fashion Archives sessions and brought along six artefacts from LCF Archives which the participants were encouraged to handle. Here she talks about their responses.

Mary Quant make up crayons, early 1960s. Photo Courtesy of Jane Holt, LCF Archives

Mary Quant make up crayons, early 1960s. Photo Courtesy of Jane Holt, LCF Archives

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