Sunday, September 2, 2007

Petals from the Same Flower

Rosenbach Museum & Library
Philadelphia, PA
April 11-May 22, 2001

Costume by Gregory Nelson and Candy Depew, installation by Depew
With Elizabeth Boggs on harpsichord and Michael Simmons on guitar

I was commissioned by the Rosenbach to make a piece in response to their collection of rare books, 18th century furniture and decorative arts. I was fascinated by the way the brothers used their collections to reinvent themselves: They grew up the sons of middle-class Jewish merchants who went bankrupt but as the brothers amassed a fortune from selling rare books in the 1920s, they assumed the lavish lifestyle of English country gentlemen. I took the audience on a tour of the museum, focusing on objects that were pretending to be something else (chinoiserie mirrors, Empire furniture, Shakespeare forgeries) to examine how we use our objects to redefine ourselves. My costume was an exact replica of an 18th-century dress, constructed using a historic pattern but rendered in decidedly contemporary fabric.

I combined historic facts about the Rosenbach brothers' idiosyncratic collecting habits with stories about my own collections (ceramic nuns, fiesta ware, vintage bathing suits) to explore the obsessive nature of collecting and the culture of excess.

The piece was a collaboration with costume designer Gregory Nelson and installation artist Candy Depew, who designed and printed the fabric of my dress. Depew created a “period room” combining wallpaper and topiary of her design with objects from the brothers' collection where the performance culminated in a recital with harpsichord.

Photo: Aaron Igler