The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design
June 11, 2014–December 20, 2014
Curated by costume designer Mary Rose, this exhibit features one hundred costumes from twenty television shows garnering a total of ninety eight Emmy nominations for 2013-2014. Highlights include pieces from period dramas Downton Abbey (PBS) and Bonnie & Clyde (Lifetime).
Pieces such as the Downton Abbey evening gowns worn by Elizabeth McGovern as Cora Crawley and Maggie Smith as Dowager Countess Violet Crawley emphasize the work of wardrobe departments in recovering vintage beadwork, preserving it, and then giving new life to it by attaching it to freshly designed garments.
These garments also gesture to the functional difference between historical clothing and period costumes. For example, intricately restored details exist only around the actor’s face and upper body, revealing that the costumes are objects designed not for full-scale viewing in daily life but for camera close-ups and upper body shots during specifically lit dinner table scenes. In this sense, the exhibit uses its own physical space to take costumes out of their performative contexts in ways that question those objects’ roles as functional versus artistic pieces.
That said, an exhibit of this size would benefit from more overt curatorial commentary. Despite the number of costumes on display, the broad range of television genres represented, and the sizeable physical space, “The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design” does little to guide visitors on walking through or conceptualizing relationships among the individual displays. Visitors may reasonably wonder why historically-inspired pieces from The Sound of Music Live! (NBC) are positioned across from modern, off-the-rack collections from The Good Wife (CBS), Orange is the New Black (Netflix), and Breaking Bad (AMC). While critical reasoning might exist (for example, the idea that each show features a strong female character who struggles against a form of masculine social, political, or economic constraint), it also may not. Ultimately, the displays seem discrete in nature, tied only by the general celebration of popular television, celebrity, and those FIDM alumni who contributed towards the programs’ Emmy nominations.
For fans of the twenty featured television shows (the lists are available online and at the exhibit), “The Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design” delivers on its stated mission of “saluting the work of this year’s Emmy nominated Costume Designers, Costume Supervisors, and Assistant Costume Designers.” For FIDM students, alumni, and other individuals familiar with the work involved in those positions, the exhibit may even provide examples of strong work and inspiration for future projects. Individuals who sit outside or on the cusps of those categories, however, can walk through quickly and without gaining much new insight to the complex world of costume design.
For more information on this exhibit, please visit: FIDM