Impossible Conversations, Happening Simultaneously

Schiaparelli & Prada - Classical Body I looked forward to the Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for many months. I LOVE Elsa Schiaparelli’s work and while I run hot and cold about Miuccia Prada’s career, I was excited to see “the striking affinities between the two Italian designers from very different eras”. It’s true, they exist. A lot of designers have things in common, not least of which are being either female or Italian. Schiaparelli & Prada - Neck Up/Knees Down Signature pieces by both designers are arranged in seven themed galleries: ”waist up/waist down”, “ugly chic”, “hard chic”, “naïf chic”, “the classical body”, “the exotic body” and “the surreal body”. Given that you can even find work by two designers that could fit into those subheadings, shows that the two very innovative artists (my designation, they disagreed about that title) have overlapping themes in their work. Schiaparelli & Prada -Trapeze Buttons Schiaparelli could simultaneously flatter the female form, put a shoe on its head and drawers across the chest. Depending on my mood, I would say that Prada has only nailed the “surreal body” and the “ugly chic”. Schiaparelli & Prada - Ugly Chic Whatever bipolar feelings I had about Prada were approximate to my feelings about the actress Judy Davis. Davis plays the role of Schiaparelli in Baz Luhrmann’s eight short videos projected huge across the walls in each room. Incidentally, while it must have been an honor to be asked to portray such a talent, it must have come with mixed emotion, as Schiap believed herself to be unattractive. (Then again, beautiful Marion Cotillard successfully pulled off Edith Piaf, another unconventional looker and European star of the early 20th century.) Schiaparelli & Prada - Judy Davis Thanks to this exhibit, my opinion of both the designer and the actress has increased significantly. What opinion didn’t change was mine about Baz Luhrmann. The director has a way of taking a fantastic subject and making it annoying. How is it possible to turn stories from Shakespeare and the Moulin Rouge into tarty, seizure-inducing, strobe lit films? (As a director at the Art Deco Society of California, I’m dreading next year’s release of The Great Gatsby.) The films shown here are physically too big and too loud for the space. The volume encouraged visitors to talk to one another over the din. The dialog is repeated as subtitles and again on the exhibition signage, so jockeying for a view of all three was unnecessary and distracting. Not all museum shows need to incorporate multimedia. Sometimes the subject matter really does just speak for itself. Schiaparelli & Prada - Surreal Body That said, it was a thrill to see so many iconic pieces by both designers in person. Not since the fantastic 2004 Shocking exhibit of at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, have so many of Schiaparelli’s garments been assembled. I am grateful to have seen both. Schiaparelli & Prada - Bug Buttons Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations is at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York from May 10th until August 19th, 2012   Photos by Jeremy Brautman and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.