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Shimmering Trash & Violent Teeth: El Anatsui

Our guest blogger today is Katie Moore, an intern this summer in the Public Affairs department.

“Trash” is not the first thing that comes to mind when viewing El Anatsui’s Duvor. Its undulating, shimmering, and intricately assembled and designed form suggests anything but trash to me. I am aware of the statement El Anatsui is making by creating this textile, however, I cannot help thinking that a mystery serpent is slithering around naked somewhere, having molted his fabulously marked skin and leaving it in the hands of the IMA’s contemporary collection. This shed skin is, in fact, made up of thousands of flattened bottle caps sewn together with copper wire.  Viewed up close, there is no mistaking the flattened Castello beer bottle caps, connected by small pieces of copper wire twisted at the end. Viewed at a distance, Castello’s brand name and copper wire disappear. Duvor undergoes an amazing evolution as you take more and more steps backward.  What was once obvious transforms into a beautiful golden tapestry, causing you to question its materials and return once more to the up close and personal position. I call this optical illusion a “Monet,” for obvious reasons.

Fortunately Duvor is not the only artwork of El Anatsui’s housed in the IMA. One floor below the Contemporary Collection is the newly redesigned Eiteljorg Suite of African and Oceanic Art. Here you will find Sacred Comb.

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Filed under: Art, Contemporary, Film, Textile & Fashion, The Collection


Back in the Saddle Again: Project IMA

Project IMA: Fashion Unbound, 2010. Winner: Jeremy B. Hunt.

The first IMA organized fashion show, Project IMA, debuted in 2008 on an idea and a shoestring. The idea was simple: engage our community through fashion in order to promote the traveling exhibition, Breaking the Mode: Contemporary Fashion from the Permanent Collection, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It seemed therefore fitting to draw from the community for participants. Having only moved to Indianapolis six months prior, I scoured the web and attended multiple fashion events to quickly discover, much to my delight, a strong assembly of designers, wearable artists and stylists within the city. As a result, we asked 16 designers to participate in the fashion show. They had four months to visit the exhibition, study the accompanying catalogue and devise a plan for one to two ensembles that “featured outrageous, beautiful, irreverent and glamorous designs.”

Not only were the pieces created interesting, varied, and thought-provoking, but the public’s response was overwhelming. So many people attended the show we had to schedule an impromptu second show for all those who couldn’t make it in the first round. There are even rumors that the amount of traffic flowing into the parking lot actually (temporarily) shut down 38th Street. Not bad, eh?

Project IMA: Fashion Unbound, 2010. Designs by Francis Stallings

So, in 2010, we decided to try it again. Only this time, we used our own exhibition, Body Unbound: Contemporary Couture from the IMA’s Permanent Collection, as the stimulus and opened the call for entries internationally. The response was exuberant.  We had over 50 people submit proposals for inclusion. Of those 50, we selected 40 participants who met the guidelines and, just like that, Project IMA: Fashion Unbound was in full swing.  Two back-to-back shows (having learned from experience) took place in The Toby to enthusiastic crowds. The concepts employed and the quality designs, almost 80 in total, were impressive. There were pieces made from paper, plastic bags and rubber bands while others, confronted, amused and referenced history. After much deliberation, the judges selected a piece by Jeremy B. Hunt as the best of show and awarded him the Elizabeth Kraft-Meek fashion design award. Afterwards, guests, designers, models and crew attended the official Behind the Seams after party, hosted by the newly formed affiliate group, FAS. Here audience members viewed garments up close, lined up for photos by Got Shot, and listened to the music of local pop sweethearts, Beta Male.  All in all, the event was a success.

So, here we go, again…

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Filed under: Public Programs, Textile & Fashion, The Toby, Uncategorized


Living in a “Material World”

With every coming season, we’re bombarded with the latest “trends” and innovations the fashion world has cooked up for us. We’re always led to believe we’re seeing the newest, freshest batch of chicness – but is any of it really new?

Not exactly. The old saying “history repeats itself” can be applied to fashion without fail.  Save for those unexplainable and unsettling fads (i.e. jelly shoes and acid wash denim), nearly everything in fashion can be traced to a previous trend or inspiration.  The long-sleeved mini dresses on the Azarro and Jil Sander runways? Direct 60s references. Prada looked back to the 50s with knee-length skirts and feminine hues. On countless runways, polka dots – one of the most classic prints – were given a fresh, modern spin.

While none of this is “new,” we’re definitely seeing it in a new way.

Luckily, fashionphiles like me have an advantage when it comes to tracing trends: the IMA’s very own Material World exhibition.  From crystal-encrusted Dior gowns to ornate Cambodian pieces, Material World is chock full of the clothes that started it all. Seeing the exquisite craftsmanship, rich colors, and tiny details up close means spotting fashion influences is both easy and fascinating. In particular, a feathered Chanel cape, a Tibetan regalia, Chinese imperial robe, and a two-piece Chanel suit stood out to me, and to demonstrate their timeless appeal, I compared them to Fall/Winter 2011 runways:



The 1920s was an age of excess and luxury, exuberance and joy.  This feathered, camel-colored Chanel cape exhibits all of these sentiments, with the addition of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s exquisite tailoring and craftsmanship, of course. Wearing feather-adorned clothing was both an exotic new design idea and a shameless display of wealth for upper class Americans of the Roaring Twenties.  Naturally Chanel, the premiere couturier, was among the first to turn out magnificently feathered pieces.  The dense application of feathers gives the cape a soft, plush feel, yet true to form, Chanel kept the colors natural and the shape sleek and simple. Nothing too gaudy or over-the-top for the original minimalist.

Today, we’re seeing modern interpretations of the feathered trend – and not just feathered pieces, but opulent fur pieces as well.  But modern styling and shapes make all the difference in the world; take the Valentino feathered jacket, for example: ultra-naturalized feathers on a 60s-inspired swing coat, complete with cropped sleeves and a rounded collar. The juxtaposition makes an impact far greater than the original shapeless Chanel cape. Similarly, fur has held its ground as a fabric of luxury, and the past few seasons have shown a fur resurgence.  Designers are playing with different treatments of fur; think full sleeves, thick textures, even psychedelic dyes like turquoise, red and pink.



The Tibetan tradition of the oracle’s regalia is to emphasize his connection to the spiritual world, just as the Chinese imperial robe expresses an emperor’s oneness with God. And while fashion today isn’t exactly spiritual, it’s arguable that our ability to see runway shows online connects us to the fashion gods (aka designers). Religion aside, the inspiration of Tibet and China is unmistakable on some of today’s biggest runways, including Dries Van Noten, Mary Katrantzou, and Etro, which featured looks with boldly mixed patterns, draped fabrics, ornate decoration, and metallic threads.

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Filed under: Exhibitions, Textile & Fashion


Font of All Knowledge

For our 2011 fashion and textile exhibition Material World, designer Matt Kelm developed a brand new typeface for the title treatment. Material World is all about the splendor and opulence of clothing from across the globe, and how different societies use materials to connote power and wealth. The intricate letters are a fitting counterpart to the richly textured and adorned objects and they act as a subtle reminder to look closely at the details in the show. Just like we did for his last special project, I sat down with Matt to ask him about his inspirations and process for making the letters.

You can see the results in use (and all of the fabulous clothes) in the Paul Textile Gallery and Fashion Arts Gallery until February 6, 2012.

What were your inspirations for the Material World typeface?

The grid-like mesh of natural elements like spider webs was an inspiration, as well as man-made things like chain-link fences. Both can feel either very clean and manufactured or organic depending on how they are viewed or manipulated.

How did you design this typeface? Did you make the whole alphabet?

Functioning typefaces are created with specialized software that allows them to be typed directly from the keyboard, and includes important  information about spacing, alternate weights, etc. Because we were only using these new letters to spell short phrases, and because of the time required to actually create a functioning font, I simply made the letters in Adobe Illustrator with the pen tool. Creating each letter isn’t difficult, but it can be time consuming, so I drew only the characters I needed for this exhibition.

Why did you design a typeface and not use one that already existed?

While thinking about what typography and imagery could be used to represent the intricate materials used in the exhibition, I did look at a number of pre-existing options. Ornate display type tends to be created to connote specific imagery—Victorianism, holidays, or the stereotypes of a foreign culture, for instance. I wanted something that felt contemporary and spoke to the physical construction of the garments, but also seemed organic as well. It didn’t take very long to realize that drawing my own letters was the most natural approach.

How does the design of Material World enhance a visit to the show?

The primary goal of any design is to enhance the content. The experience of shopping at a big-box grocery store is very different from visiting an expensive clothing retailer, and it’s not because of the objects for sale. By using dark colors and not using more light than necessary, we are trying to create a space that feels intimate and seductive when compared to other galleries. The typography, too—both in its design and its use in the show—is meant to accentuate the seductive nature of the work, as well as reference the intricate patterns and handwork evidenced in many of the pieces.


Filed under: Design, Textile & Fashion


So, What If It Doesn’t Fit?

You customize, of course.

Material World, the latest exhibition in the Paul Textile and Fashion Arts Galleries, is comprised of tantalizing objects from around the world, each with its own set of installation needs. From court dresses to Imperial robes to ceremonial dance ensembles, the size and weight of the objects, vulnerability of materials, and the support needed vary from object to object. Some pieces demand heads for accompanying headdresses, while others require specific stances, or modified mounts.

Custom mount for woman’s belt.

Installed, the ring supports the belt allowing long fringe to hang freely.

In some instances, dresses slipped on mannequins with little adjustment, but in other cases the silhouette of the garment or weight and texture of the fabric prohibited the use of conventional dress forms. One example is a Chinese Palace Guard uniform worn by a sentinel in the Imperial army during the Qing Dynasty. The ensemble consists of eight pieces: an oversized coat, over-trousers split in the center covered with an embroidered panel, two shoulder ornaments made of heavy gilt bronze, and patches buttoning onto the jacket. The striking ensemble is made of heavy brocaded satin cloth with gold metallic threads enhanced by the addition of hundreds of bronze studs covering the surface of the fabric. Due to the weight of the fabric and size of the coat, the piece could not be exhibited on a mannequin in a pose with arms at the side. In addition, we had to account for the heavy epaulets on either shoulder, to ensure that each are supported without placing any strain on the fabric. Therefore, we enlisted the help of the IMA’s mount maker, Brose Partington. Brose removed the mannequin’s arms and created customized armatures that lock on.

The result is impressive. Not only does the pose alleviate strain on the fabric (had the arms been used, the sleeves would have bunched and crushed under the arms on either side) but the domineering uniform can now be viewed in its entirety.

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Filed under: Art, Textile & Fashion, The Collection


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