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Ronaldus Shamask: Form, Fashion, Reflection

Start Date 06 October 2012
End Date 10 March 2013
Venue Philadelphia Museum of Art
Location Philadelphia, USA
Curator Dilys Blum

Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building, Spain Gallery

This fall, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will present Ronaldus Shamask: Form, Fashion, Reflection, an overview of the unique multidisciplinary approach to fashion honed by Shamask over his thirty-five-year career. The exhibition explores the evolution of Shamask’s creative process and includes clothing as well as life-size drawings, dance costume sketches, and video clips of fashion shows and dance performances. It also highlights the designer’s collaborations with artists working in a variety of fields. Iconic garments from his collections are presented alongside contemporary designs on view for the first time.

Shamask’s women’s wear is marked by clean lines and a focus on cut, construction, and color. Trained in stage design and interior architecture, Shamask animates his creations by eliminating all but the essentials. Since presenting his first couture collection in 1979 in New York, he has embraced elements of architecture as well as traditional Japanese clothing and crafts, including origami, the art of paper folding. Hakama Evening Overall (1979; version 2012) reinterprets the formal garments traditionally worn by samurai warriors with jolts of color inspired by the paintings of Francisco de Zurbarán (Spanish, 1598–1664) and Piet Mondrian (Dutch, 1872–1944). When unfolded, the dramatic Four-Point Ensemble (1982) takes the form of a traditional Japanese theater banner. Shamask’s architectural inspiration can be seen in Spiral Jacket (1981), cut from one piece of fabric incorporating a continuously curving seam that mimics a lemon peel. Instead of making freehand sketches as many designers do, Shamask worked out his early designs as architectural renderings on graph paper, scaling them to the size of the finished piece. This method is evident in Drawing for Pleated Dress (1979)a garment constructed of precisely folded pleats anchored by top stitching, topped by his Handbag Jacket (1979) with integral pockets.

In addition to considering how his designs interact with the body, Shamask enters into provocative dialogue with artists who share his vision and multidisciplinary approach in their respective fields. In Suspension Dress (1979; version 1991, 2012), Shamask used a cast silver necklace by Michele Oka Doner as a counterweight to a draped square of linen, which falls into a handkerchief hem in the back. Evening Dress (1998; version 2012) and Two-Piece Halter Dress (1998; version 2012) represent the influence of Jennifer Bartlett’s post-minimalist work with color and grids. Shamask’s showing of his spring 1999 collection at Bartlett’s Greenwich Village studio in November 1998 created a striking dialogue with the artist’s paintings and prints.

Shamask was also influenced by music and dance, which he explored both solo (Cello Jacket, 1981) and in conjunction with others. His collaborations with choreographers Lucinda Childs and Mikhail Baryshnikov are reflected in an illuminating series of sketches in a loose, gestural hand that shows a lyrical side of the designer’s work. Shamask partnered with Childs between 1983 and 1999, designing costumes for eight dances. Costume Design for “Portraits in Reflection” (1986, with sets by Robert Mapplethorpe) is a black-and-white abstract rendering of Childs in motion. Costume Designs for Chamber Symphony (1994) presents geometric shapes overlaid with a grid, later reflected in his 1999 collection inspired by Bartlett.

Costume Designs for The Good Army (1994) for Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project depicts “non-costumes,” streetwise, hybrid garments cut asymmetrically from pieced windbreaker fabric, cardigans, denim, and flannel. At first glance the costumes appear to be shirts tied around the waist, but when the dancers execute their ballet movements, the wraps become formal, draped skirts. Shamask reinterpreted these costumes in his spring/summer 2012 collection, as seen in Mondrian Meets Superman Long Dress, in which the designer used fine linen, silk, leather, and suede to create a simple, elegant garment.

Dilys Blum, The Jack M. and Annette Y. Friedland Senior Curator of Costume and Textiles, notes, “This exhibition presents an opportunity to focus on a purist who, from his earliest days in the industry, looked at fashion not as trendmaking, but as an opportunity to make a statement that overlaps with art, performance, and architecture. Shamask presents a cohesive vision and a harmonious integration of line, color, and movement in dialogue with the human form.”


Note to Editors

Ronaldus Shamask was born in Amsterdam in 1945, immigrated to Australia, and then moved to London to paint and work as a fashion illustrator for The Times and The Observer. In 1972 he relocated to the United States, where he worked as a stage designer for ballet and theater and as an interior architect. With Murray Moss, Shamask launched his first fashion business in 1978, a partnership that would last twelve years, and in 1996 launched his own company, SHAMASK. His many accolades include the Coty American Fashion Critics Award for Women’s Wear and Outstanding Men’s Designer from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. His work was included in the landmark exhibition Intimate Architecture: Contemporary Clothing Design (1982) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His work has been featured in numerous museum exhibitions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Kyoto Costume Institute, and The Fashion Institute of Technology. Today, Shamask rarely shows his collections on the runway, preferring to focus instead on a select client base that includes a number of luxury retailers.

Since 1893, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has assembled one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of costumes and textiles in the world (nearly thirty thousand works), ranging in scope from ancient textile fragments to eighth-century Chinese costumes to twentieth-century innovations by Elsa Schiaparelli. It also houses Grace Kelly’s wedding dress, avant-garde menswear, and work by Ralph Rucci.

The collection has formed the basis for innovative exhibitions such as Community Fabric: African American Quilts and Folk Art (1994); Best Dressed: 50 Years of Style (1997–1998); Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli (2003); and Roberto Capucci: Art into Fashion (2011). The costume and textiles exhibitions currently on view are Great Coats: Women’s Outerwear from the Collection (Study Gallery) and Scottish Samplers from the Whitman Sampler Collection (Gallery 271).

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