Iris Apfel Chooses the Peabody Essex

A few weeks ago the Boston Globe reported that Iris Apfel will donate more than 600 pieces of her clothing collection to the Peabody Essex Museum. Apfel is an interior designer and businesswoman, but most of all she is known as a style icon. The circular eyeglass shape she prefers is one of her hallmarks, as are the multifaceted, layered, and often colorful ensembles she wears.

Back in 2005, the Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted an exhibition of Apfel’s clothing called Rara Avis (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel. This show traveled to Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Florida, The Nassau County Museum in New York, and then the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.

Many expected that Apfel would leave her collection to the museum that first exhibited it, the Met. Obviously the Met has the most expansive and deep collection of historic costume in the United States. So it sent waves through the fashion history world as to why she would choose a museum like the Peabody Essex, which has no collection specifically for costume, according to its website.

When I lived in Massachusetts, I had the pleasure of visiting the Peabody Essex a few times and can vouch for the quality work they do. Wedding Bliss: The Marriage of Art and Ceremony still sticks out in my head as one of the most multidimensional and elegant exhibitions I have ever seen. The show included wedding attire from both Western and international cultures, fine art, decorative arts, other bits of material culture from weddings, and contemporary art. So I can see why Apfel feels her collection is in good hands.

My best guess is that Apfel wants her collection to live under the best preservation standards and be exhibited in a museum where it will shine. Surely the Peabody Essex is more than capable of that. Also, by giving to the Peabody Essex, which has strong costume holdings in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries but little after the 1940s, she can be sure that the contemporary section of fashion in the museum will be built around her gift.

As good timing would have it (and these kinds of things always have good timing), a donation by George and Nancy Putnam of Putnam Investments is enabling the museum to hire a textile, fashion, and costume curator. And Apfel and her husband are making a donation for a gallery specifically devoted to fashion in the new wing the museum is building to open in 2017.

If Apfel’s collection had gone to the Met, it would have been lost (metaphorically only) in their huge collection. By giving to a smaller museum of excellent caliber, she knows her clothing will see more exhibition time and will be considered a jewel.

New Membership

I recently joined the Plains Art Museum here in Fargo as a member. I’m really happy about this decision. The Plains is an art museum focusing on national and regional contemporary art, traditional American Indian art, and traditional folk art.

I find I’m a more creative and productive person when I’m regularly exposed to art and creative projects. Becoming a member of a local museum will encourage me to go more often. It’s easy to hole up in my apartment with the Internet sometimes, but getting out to a museum really breathes new life into me.

Admission is free for me whenever I want to visit the galleries and to some special events, and I’ve received one free pass for a friend. Most museums offer discounts on classes, workshops, and in the gift shop and cafe to members.

As a member, I’ll regularly receive announcements about exhibition openings and other exciting events, so I don’t have to work quite so hard to find out what is going on and when. I hate when I find out a day too late that there was a cool gathering going on. Facebook can be unreliable since posts about events can get lost in my ever updating news feed.

Becoming a member benefits the museum as well. Unfortunately, most basic membership dues do not cover much beyond the costs of benefits. But membership is proven to increase museum attendance, and attendance numbers are an important piece when applying for grants. Also, the membership pool is a good group to target when asking for donations, because you already know these people support the institution and its mission. That means less wasted money and time hunting for financial support.

I’m looking forward to going to the Plains more often now. They have a great juried exhibition featuring contemporary artists living on the plains right now. I’ve seen it twice already, but its so good that I will probably see it again.