do you know iris apfel?
born in new york, she worked for women’s wear daily, helped with white house restorations in eight presidential administrations, and has a personal wardrobe legendary enough to warrant its own exhibition…
an exhibition that looks equally compelling as that recently mounted in honor of isabella blow.
which leads me to wonder if the whimsy of these exhibitions really is entirely dependent upon the whimsy of the personality/person at the core.
or maybe, to push that further, the person we allow the person to be.
if we judge the cultural currency of a celebrity image by magazine covers (which, i would argue, is an excellent barometer), here is where we are with jackie…
those are the most recent. this is 1994:
notice a trend? it’s not just us americans either. the french appear equally enamored of the yellow dress photo shoot, though they’ve allowed a slightly larger range of expression…
so we like our jackie silent and mysterious. very like a certain someone else…
and we really really like her in that yellow dress.
articles like this make it into the guts of the magazine, not onto the cover…
so this is the culturally current image:
jackie in the yellow dress. jackie silent. jackie looking slightly drugged.
or a variation of april 1961, where she is equally silent and slightly drugged…
my work is primarily concerned with the way we engage with the lives of iconic women and with trying to push that engagement in order to reveal the facets of their lives that we’re- willfully???- over-looking.
so the question here, with the way these lives are presented through objects in exhibitions and auctions, is how much biographical baggage we’re bringing to those objects. are the ways in which those objects are presented and the ways we read them pre-determined? and what alternate presentations and readings are missing, where there’s room for an expression of the personality of the owner, her joie de vivre?
must jackie always be poised and ruthlessly curated?
or can she be messy?
are marilyn monroe’s things always going to be sad?
and, if so, is this because they’re monroe’s? or because- in light of her image of glamour- the objects associated with her appear bizarrely banal?
these are her clothes:
where is the joie de vivre?
monroe’s clothes look like a rack at american apparel. these are iris aphel’s clothes and they do not:
in fairness, i’m comparing an auction to an exhibition, and those are two entirely different things. marilyn gets auctions rather than exhibitions. but jackie has been the subject of both, and this problem persists.
‘lively’ is a word i don’t think anyone would think to apply to the exhibition of her clothes.
yes, there was the shock that a woman so often seen in black and white photographs, in fact, wore brights.
but it could be portrayed more imaginatively than this, right?
at the time of the exhibit, i actually bought this poster. because i was all PRETTY! CLOTHES! but looking at it now, i find it disturbing. and symptomatic of the problem at play here. looking at this poster, what do you see?
and where’s jackie?
in contrast, women like isabella blow or iris apfel- women whose biographical baggage, at least in terms of our familiarity with their images and their lives- is significantly lighter can be insistent, vivid presences in the shows dedicated to them.
at ‘fashion galore’, as i’ve written previously, blow’s presence seemed to inhabit every object, from the clothes to the roladex to the eye-lashes. in contrast, at the jackie clothing exhibit, one might as well have been looking at an artifact from ancient egypt, so remote were the objects on display from a sense of their having once been lived in.
i don’t know that there’s a corrective for this. it may just be that, in their fame, certain aspects of certain people are lost forever and the things they owned and touched and wore become repositories for our own relationships with them.
perhaps because we feel pity for monroe, so her make-up case reads as a tragedy. maybe because we feel distant from jackie, she always seems just out of reach.
perhaps it is only the people we do not know, these women whose stories haven’t been drilled into our heads and woven into the fabric of our history, who can feel real and believable. perhaps it is only they whom we can allow to have truly been alive.