‘Tattered and Torn’: Cast-Offs From Museum Collections

Governors Island, NEW YORK—The “Tattered and Torn (On the Road to Deaccession)” exhibit on Governors Island features less-than-pristine costumes from museum collections. Although the condition of the garments is too poor for display in museums, Empire Historic Arts Fund believes they remain a resource for those interested in 19th century fashion design.

Fashion presentation benefits from contrast, which is why magazines have a penchant for photographing fabulous couture in the desert or an urban alley. “Tattered and Torn” lacks contrast. Shown in an historic, brick residential building that once housed members of the U.S. Coast Guard in the 1960s, the somewhat worn gowns (draped on what must also be deaccessioned mannequins) appear even more drab against the dilapidated interior. However, the off-white, peeling walls of the apartment provide a much-prefered backdrop to the fake pillars topped with ferns and draped netting and branches installed by the curators. And the installation of a satin costume in the bare kitchen is quite striking compared with the rest of the displays.

While the clothes are indeed tattered, the fund correctly assumes that those interested in fashion and costume history—eager to view not just quality items but also unique examples of vintage garments—will appreciate the exhibit. Yesterday, detailed descriptions to help visitors learn more about each of the costumes hadn’t arrived yet, but with Michael B. Levinson, an interior designer on hand to explain the provenance of each, including the details of the fabrics and French lace, the exhibition copy wasn’t missed.

“Tattered and Torn” is on view from May 26 to Sept. 30, 2012 in Building 315.

All photos by Arts Observer

Above and top of page, Costumes from the Brooklyn Museum.

From left, A costume from the Schenectady Museum in Schenectady, N.Y. and an 1865 gown produced in New York.

A French costume with lace details.

There are 2 comments

  1. Molly M

    I was so excited to see that you covered Tattered & Torn. However, when I reviewed your photos, I realized that your review is from the original show two years ago. This past weekend, I visited the all-new, part 2 show (2014) with apparently all “new” couture clothing. It was fabulous in every way… And I’m so glad to see Governors Island feature it and other interesting and fun fare.

  2. sjw

    Hello and thank you for covering this remarkable installation! I had seen the Empire Historic Arts Fund last summer at Governor’s Island- and was blown away by the historic clothing, genius concept and amazing presentation. Their important, and very creative, business of salvaging and exhibiting discarded vintage clothing provides a crucial perspective on contemporary culture’s preoccupation with definitions of value, worth and beauty. While “Tattered & Torn” contributes to the ongoing dialogue regarding excess, what comprises surplus and a growing imperative to “reclaim/recycle/reuse”- perhaps the less obvious message is the exploration of traditional gender roles and women as “property”. This presentation takes the idea of the proverbial “trophy wife” to new places! I beg to differ with your critique of the installation itself- finding these obviously cast-off figures and the environments they inhabit to be the perfect aesthetic solution for presenting these well-worn historic textiles. Thanks again for sharing.

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