May 2011, Mannerism and Modernism: The Kasper Collection of Drawings and Photographs
Mannerism and Modernism: The Kasper Collection of Drawings and Photographs
When asked about the particular kind of woman he designs for, American fashion designer Herbert Kasper replied candidly, “I deeply believe this woman remains an individual. No one is going to tell her exactly what she has to wear, no matter what's currently in style”. It therefore comes by no surprise that the private art collection of the celebrated women’s wear designer follows a similar thread. Known in the international fashion world as simply “Kasper”, the now 84 year old designer’s private art collection is on at the Morgan Library & Museum.
As a designer who always felt that his clothes should “work well together”, one piece of an ensemble blending seamlessly into the next, it seems only natural that Kasper’s art collection follows a similar trend. Spanning across three distinct areas of art, the collection is mainly comprised of Italian Mannerist drawings, Modern and Contemporary drawings, and 20th and 21st century Photography. The exhibition displays Kasper’s collection of over 100 drawings and photographs in the Morgan Stanley East and West galleries, inspired by the actual arrangement in Kasper’s New York City apartment.
The exhibition as a whole functions collaboratively, displaying drawings of Italian old master draftsmen of the 16th and 17th century such as Fra Bartolommeo, Romano, Parmigianino, Carvaggio, Cesari, and Vasari alongside the work of eminent Modernists such as Degas, Picasso, Matisse, and Miro. It is here, amongst Matisse’s Fauvist nudes and Parmigianino’s serpentine Madonnas that the collection’s unifying theme of innovation takes hold. “I am interested in periods of change, when new styles and forms of expression are emerging”, says Kasper.
Further strengthening this common thread is the lateral comparison of selected Contemporary photographs germane to the collection’s drawings. Of particular interest is the juxtaposition of Vik Muniz’s The Sacred Ludaica, after Bernini, a chocolate-infused chromogenic print from the series Pictures of Chocolate (1997) with Giulio Romano’s Cupid and Psyche and Other Figures, (1524–40). Although Muniz’s Ludaica is not one of the more visually impressive pieces from the series, it does serve a purpose symbolically. Dripping with lust and luxury, decadent swirls of chocolate replace the brown ink of Mannerist drawing, resulting in a bizarrely scrumptious interpretation of the inherent Catholic guilt deeply-rooted within the conception of original sin.
Exceptional to the collection is Muniz’s large-scale chromogenic print Medea About to Kill Her Children, After Eugene Delacroix from the 2006 series Pictures of Junk. Muniz once again re-creates history, this time literally raising mythological icons from a dizzying array of garbage collected from a dump in the artist’s native Rio de Janiero. Here, an analogy is drawn to Pier Francesco Mazzucchelli’s dramatic depiction of the Betrothal of the Virgin (1615-16), suggesting the timeless novelty of portraying age-old iconographic figures in unconventional ways.
A compelling sense of timelessness brings Kasper’s photography collection together, celebrating the evolution of artistic deviation through the eras as well as the magnification of a precise moment in time. The work of distinguished Contemporary artists such as Jenny Holzer, Ed Ruscha, Man Ray, Robert Mapplethorpe, Ernest Kafka, Adam Fuss, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Loretta Lux all stand out within the collection.
Most impressive are the photograms of British photographer Adam Fuss, who, like Kasper, comes from a fashion background. Fuss’s brilliantly pigmented photogram print of an incandescent butterfly chrysalis, Untitled (2003), examines time through the life-cycle of a caterpillar’s metamorphosis. Measuring over 6 feet tall, the chrysalis has an electrifying presence, radiating a color-saturated ethereality that feels almost holy, reminding of the perpetual transformations that all life forms encounter as time steadily presses on. Likewise, Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto’s silver gelatin print Beacon Theatre, New York (1979 ) challenges our perception of time. By manipulating the shutter settings of his camera in order to capture the stark yet eloquent silence of a single second, he manages to bring time at an eery standstill.
Apropos of the conclusion of the exhibition are two highly pigmented prints from Sze Tsung Leong’s Horizons project. The currently ongoing project features panoramic photographs of horizon lines from around the world, lining up to create one continuous latitude stretched across the globe. Likewise true to the designer’s self-proclaimed “sense of adventure and novelty in art”, the Kasper Collection traverses its own horizons through the continuity of change and time.
(In addition to the Morgan Curatorial staff, art dealer Axel Vervoordt also contributed to the planning and execution of this exhibition).
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief