A Conversation with Jessica Glasscock on Curating the Space Between Fashion & Faith
Written by Emilia Jane Boulton & Diana Yichu Cao
Like The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s now most popular exhibition, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, the Dorothy Hirshon Suite at The New School was packed out with students and faculty wanting to listen to Jessica Glasscock’s presentation on the curation behind the exhibit in question.
It was rather fitting when Ms. Glasscock, the Research Associate at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute, described the journey one goes through in the exhibit as a “pilgrimage.” We both would definitely use that word if we were to describe our journey to The Met Cloisters in Washington Heights of Upper Manhattan, but it was definitely worth it!
The conversation between Ms. Glasscock and Fiona Dieffenbacher (Assistant Professor of Fashion Design at Parsons) and Mark Larrimore (Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Eugene Lang) had raised interesting questions, and in particular, how the topic of Catholicism was articulated to the wider public and its diverse cultures.
It was really insightful to hear from Ms. Glassock that she believed her atheism had enabled her to translate the theme and concept effectively with her team because she too had to learn the many layers of Catholicism herself.
On the topic of the logistics behind the curation, some of the practical aspects that had to be considered for the exhibition ended up giving the exhibit an “ethereal” quality. There was the example of the heavily embellished Christian Dior dress, which was displayed at The Met Cloisters. The mannequin was lying down inside a glass coffin, and it appeared to have “floated” off the ground, portraying an almost “ghostly” atmosphere. While we stood there thinking it was for atmospheric effects, Ms. Glasscock stated that it was to protect the delicate sequins from being damaged by the weight of the dress. A “happy coincidence” one could say.
As Ms. Glasscock led the audiences through the journey of The Costume Institute designing and curating the most visited exhibition in the history of the Met, one cannot help but perceive the deep connections between artwork and fashion. Citing the Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute, Andrew Bolton’s extraordinary ability to put different pieces into the conversation.
Ms. Glasscock vividly illustrated how the team at the Costume Institute and other departments at the Met collaborated to create a coherent, expansive narrative of the fashion influenced by Catholicism. The exhibition also included an unprecedented number of pieces from the Vatican. Originally requesting four to eight pieces, the team was elated to borrow 42 pieces.
Susan B. Kaiser stated in her book, Fashion and Cultural Studies, “Religion… is an important subject position for some individuals and deserves its own deeper analysis.” (2012) With Kaiser’s quote imprinted in our minds under the current political and cultural climate, we appreciate the meticulous efforts of the team to present those pieces in a respectful manner.
Ms. Glasscock said that the team was aware that the exhibition would attract audiences with a diverse array of interests and created three exhibition tours to cater to their various interests. Judging from the heartfelt gratitude and appreciation expressed in the Q&A session, we can safely say that mission was accomplished.