I was as surprised as anyone at the news earlier this week that Mayor Richard M. Daley will not run for re-election in the next mayoral term. Daley has always been a big supporter of the Art Institute—coming to see exhibitions in the early hours before the public, attending openings, and always enthusing about the many projects we have underway. So selfishly, my reaction is . . . Darn! I’m the curator of nineteenth-century French painting here at the museum, and one of my current pet projects is an exhibition exploring the relationship between avant-garde painting and the fashion industry during the Impressionist period. It was during this period—from about the 1860s to the 1880s—when the department store flourished, when middle class people could aspire to fashion and a new concept of “style” that had to do with the trendy silhouette (crinolined, bustled, and, for men, padded and cinched), and when an unprecedented awareness of fashion (as distinct from mere clothing) emerged through advertisements, popular press, and the many new public spaces in Paris where styles were seen and copied.
The mayor has long been a supporter of Chicago’s contributions to the fashion world, so at an opening for a major exhibition a few months ago I gave Mayor Daley the “elevator pitch” on the basic concept of this exhibition (which opens in Paris during Fashion Week of 2012, then travels to the Met, returning to Chicago in the summer of 2013). His eyes lit up at the prospect of yet another “good for Chicago!” venture appropriate to our burgeoning reputation as a city à la mode. I intend to start blogging about this exhibition—the planning, the negotiations, and the huge learning curve for someone like me who has always worked in the “fine” arts of sculpture and painting but is now taking on the purview of fashion historians. But today I’m pondering the future of what this recent news means (on a personal level) for the exhibitions’ potentially wider public outreach and support, and, more significantly, what it means for the Mayor’s Fashion Advisory Council and its aspirations for Chicago fashion to make history.
–Gloria G., The David and Mary Winton Green Curator in the Department of Medieval to Modern European Painting and Sculpture
Credit: Édouard Manet, Woman Reading, 1879/80. Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection.