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A journal of social practice & professional engagement for the Antioch community
 

Curating an Exhibition – Gender Bending Fashion: Sarah Mills ’21 at MFA Boston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. One of the largest museum collections in the country. And here I was, a second year undergraduate student. I was assisting a fashion curator in a HUGE exhibition, really a groundbreaking one, for the newly added Textiles and Fashion Arts department. This was big. The exhibition? Gender-Bending Fashion, a view through the past, and the way our fashion has changed between gender roles, the way it has blurred and switched, and overall transformed. The microphone handed over to the LGBTQA community. The microphone handed to women, and men, that refused to stick to their “gender roles” throughout the last 200 years. The  microphone being handed to anyone that didn’t want to conform to societies fashion standards. What a perfect place for an Antioch student. Which was a funny statement, because I was actually the second Antioch student to work with Michelle Finamore on this same exhibition. Mallory Drover ’19 had worked on the initial research during her co-op at the MFA last year. The pressure was on. The torch passed. (Photo: Alessandro Trincone, Annodami (detail), January 2016. Photographer: Gioconda & August. Model: Andrea Antonelli. Alessandro Tricone’s dress that was featured on the Young Thug Album Cover “Jeffery” which has become the face for GBF.)

The exhibition was in, basically, 9 weeks from my arrival. We had 9 weeks to pull all the final parts together. My boss was in crunch mode, and I was there to pick up the pieces. I was organizing and compiling lists, helping tie up loose end. I was working with the design team,the interpretation department and the TFA’s conservation team. I was going to meetings, and my opinion was being sought out. I was also researching. I was tasked with hunting down copyrights to images, and then making lists to send and get sent back, edit, send again. I was learning this was a normal part of museum life. It takes 10 people, and 100 emails, to get one, simple enough task, done. I was seeing the museum world during the best time I could, right before the opening of an exhibition. The scramble. But this was also the time where designers were coming in, and I was meeting them! Objects that had been researched long ago, showing up. While it was a stressful time, it was exciting and new everyday. I thrived in the, almost, chaotic atmosphere of it all, and when things got too stressful I could take a walk among some of the world’s most precious art pieces.

But the part of my job I think I enjoyed the most, after meeting designers and helping my intelligent, gentle, progressive boss, was working with the conservation team. The conservation team for the textiles department was in charge of dressing the 67 mannequins for Gender-Bending Fashion. With only two of the conservators on the exhibition, they often came to me for help. This thrilled me! I got to move away from the desk and groove. I got my hands on almost every ensemble for the show, and definitely almost every mannequin. I helped the team assemble the 40 mannequins ordered just for the show. And I knew the ensemble’s in and out because I was responsible of tracking accessories. That was my job for the final push of this show. I was also in touch with the ensembles because I was often organizing the objects, and getting them into the museum system, once they came through the door. I learned to dress and build out mannequins. I got to sew, and I worked with the conservation team every Friday, which was always a good way to wrap up my weeks.

This multifaceted job was such a wonderful learning experience as an artist. I was learning the front and back of house in the museum world. I was seeing, first hand, the fashion design world. I saw what it really meant to put on an exhibition, and it was far more than I expected. This show was curated for over a year, and would run only from March 15th and run until August 25th. The exhibition would most likely travel, which made the time, sweat and tears put into making the show happen worth it. The work that goes into an exhibition, put on display for the public’s viewing, is incredible. I was honored to be a part of such a dedicated team. To have seen clothes that Marlene Dietrich wore, or to meet Alessandro Tricone, these are experiences I wouldn’t ever forget. I would look forward to the day that I am the artist sought out by a museum! This was why we went on co-ops, to learn what we love, what we could handle, and to see what it truly means to be in the world of our desired fields. I was honored to work with Michelle Finamore, the Textile and Fashion Arts department, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I would be back for Boston one day.

Read about the exhibition here: https://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/gender-bending-fashion

Title Background Photo Credit: Tapestry: Wild Men and Moors (detail), German, about 1440. Linen and wool slit tapestry. Charles Potter Kling Fund. https://www.mfa.org/collections/textiles-and-fashion-arts/tour/textiles-and-fashion-arts-collection

 

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Second Year Antiochian. Currently pursuing a Self Design Major titled Exploring and Protecting the Natural World through Visual Arts. Ohio grown. Passionate about environmental justice, and inspiring others through visual abstracts.

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