Tuesday, 18 February 2014


Robert Wright for The New York Times The exterior of the American Folk Art Museum (source)

There has been a few stories lately in the news about the MoMA's acquisition of the American Folk Art Museum's old building and their plans to demolish it in order to accommodate a gallery expansion. I won't talk about that though, mostly because there is already good information in the articles. But I will talk about one of the AFAM's exhibitions.

The AFAM is not gone, just relocated. When I first saw the story I thought that a museum of folk was falling to a bulldozer of modern art. Certainly not the case, however this brought to mind my personal appreciation of folk (art) museums and exhibits. I think they are incredibly important as a part of almost everyday history. Sure there are Picasso's, Rembrandt's, and Bruegel the Elder's to display; but of equal importance are those which are not considered by some to be "art" in the same way.
Coat dress designed by Gary Graham
Early nineteenth-century coverlet, used by Graham as inspiration 

Currently the AFAM has an exhibit called Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art. Which in some ways reads as a contradiction to me. The description from the website states:"thirteen established and emerging designers have created original ensembles inspired by the art work in the museum's collection." Of course the idea of clothes as folk is not foreign to me, I think clothing and dress practice are important markers of cultural (whichever that might be) life. However what I do not think of as often is couture as folk. Another layer to this is that the pieces are inspired by the collection of the museum.

Painted wood figure, the inspiration for John Bartlett
Bartlett's exaggerated ensemble

Regardless of my philosophical pondering it looks like it would be incredibly interesting to see. The website has some pretty fantastic content in terms of the exhibit so if you are interested check it out.
There are some interesting designers that participating, only one of which I'm familiar with -- Koos van den Akker and only because he designs sewing patterns for vogue. The pieces created are so beautiful and very fascinating to read about.

Dress by Koos van den Akker

One of the pieces van den Akker used for inspiration

(I checked the links for the exhibit website and they only take you to the main page, so you'll just have follow the current exhibitions to the Folk Couture and find some interesting content)


  1. I find it fascinating when discussions about folk re-emerge in our culture and especially around museums; I think something very interesting is happening here - because of the new house for this collection (MoMA), it seems like folk as a discourse and genre (or however you wish to call it) is presented as a hybrid of multiple forces which would allow it to be paired with some of the visual codes of modern. Pairing folk with couture is an indication of the attempt to make connections between "lower" forms of taste culture and "higher" forms of expression - while the attempt has a democratic connotation, I would argue that a division is created between what is folk and what is couture (it is the nature of collective meaning making and interpretation). Great to see discussion of this topic on Musings!

  2. I enjoyed your reflections on what you see as the "contradiction" between folk art and couture -- thanks for your thoughtful post! This reminds me of what many of us discussed last fall regarding the Met exhibition, "Punk: Chaos to Couture." Are "punk" or "folk" styles still representative of their respective movements when they are reinterpreted in couture fashion? Does couture undermine the very nature of those movements? Irina has given some insight into these divisions in her comment above, and I'd also like to point out the recent trendiness of both styles -- folk, especially, in many ways has become more of a trend and less a way of life (or has it? This is just one interpretation).

    Well, I think I succeeded in simply posting a comment filled with open-ended questions... but great that your original post is very thought-provoking!