Sunday, September 28, 2014

The end

Dear reader,

The time has come to end this blog. I have moved onto other things, embarking on my PhD in art history at York University while also working part-time at Ryerson University as Collection Co-ordinator and Acting Curator of the Fashion Research Collection. One scholarly book is almost complete and due for release in fall 2015 (The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-based Research in Fashion by Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim for publication by Bloomsbury Academic in the UK), and another book with Bloomsbury Academic is in the proposal stage. 

I have enjoyed the time I spent on this blog. Not only did it create discipline for my writing, but it put me in touch with a whole range of wonderful people who also shared my love of dress history, fashion and art. Thank you to all that offered your comments and emailed me. I wish there were more hours in the day to stay in touch and to continue to write on this forum, but I think the time has come to say so long. I've debated about whether or not to delete this blog, but I think I shall leave it intact, as a testament to what you can achieve - if you truly are passionate about a subject. 

Although I've taken an unconventional path to being where I am, I don't regret any of the twists and turns I've made. From my roots in architecture, through to finance, and then back into art, fashion and curatorial practice, I've harnessed my inquiring mind, powers of observation and analysis skills to absorb all that I can. Although one might imagine that there are no commonalities between finance and curatorial practice, both share a requisite high level of attention to detail. And between drawing and curatorial practice, both require that same level of focus to really see what is presented before you, whether trying to make an accurate drawing or to read the evidence in a dress artifact. So it has all been good.

And so dear reader, this is the end of my blog. Of course, you can still find me on twitter @Ingrid_Mida. 

With my very best wishes,
Ingrid Mida

From the end spring new beginnings. 
Pliny the Elder

Saturday, August 16, 2014

My Mother/Myself

My Mother/Myself is the title of a series of photographs that I created several years ago with some of my mother's dresses. In this series, I gave visual representation to my deep sorrow at having to bare witness to my mother's suffering from the later stages of Parkinson's Disease. 

My Mother/Myself 1 by Ingrid Mida 

My mother Magdalene Masak passed away on August 13, 2014 and her obituary was published in the Globe & Mail. I take much comfort from the fact that her suffering has ended and that I was with her for the last hour of her life. 

Magdalene Holzhaus Masak (about 1950)

This is the text from my tribute that I will give this afternoon at her memorial service:

I would like to begin by thanking everyone who came today to honour my mother as well as those who have sent their condolences. A special thank you goes to Reverend Claudine for being here with me shortly after my mom passed away to give her blessings on my mom’s journey to heaven, as well as for her beautiful service today.

If you knew my mom or spent any time with her, you knew that she was very particular and wanted things to be just so…. I suppose I’ve inherited that trait from her, and it doesn’t make us easy people to love. So a heartfelt thank you to all of you that loved my mom and that were patient and kind to her.  

My mother was born into difficult circumstances in Germany in 1931, but rarely spoke of the hardships she knew as a child. She never knew her father and she grew up without her mother’s presence or love, and suffered from both privation and starvation during the war. She came to Canada with the hope of a better life and learned English while working as a nanny to a family in Montreal. It was in Montreal that she met Frank Masak at a dance and the rest is history as they say.

Privation during the war made my mom very thrifty. Nothing was ever to be thrown away if it could be reused or recycled. She was green, before that even was a thing.

Education was especially important to my mom since she was denied the opportunity to go to university. She remade herself at age 40 when went back to high school to earn her diploma and then studied at Seneca College to become a library technician. She paid Tom and Peter to cook dinner and we all adjusted to having a working mom. After the arrival of her 7 grandchildren, my mother took a keen interest in their studies and loved to share the news when one of them brought home a stellar report card or a prize. She seemed particularly proud when I told her about my upcoming book and that I would begin my PhD studies in art history this fall.

My mother loved music. She took me to concerts as a child and we stood at the back of the concert hall or up in the rafters listening to classical music whenever and wherever we could. She took much joy in the musical accomplishments of her grandchildren, in particular Jon, who played piano as well as cello for her often.

My mother’s life was profoundly altered by Parkinson’s Disease. Sadly it was less than two years after my father died of complications of Parkinson’s Disease that she was diagnosed with the same cruel fate, and it robbed her of many joys that she might otherwise have partaken with her beloved grandchildren. She was deeply embarrassed by the tremors and she avoided joining in on family celebrations if she was having a bad day. Mike, Jon, Conrad, Glen, Matthew, Gaby and Geneva were deprived of her smile, even though she was feisty and spirited until the end.

There are so many people that deserve a special thank you. This place, her final home, was a good place – filled with people who showed her much kindness and patience. There are so many of you who ministered to her with such love and tenderness, including Violet, Sangeetha, Angela, Fely, Emily, Citas, Isah and Lina. I bow my hat to you for being so gentle, so kind and so tender with her. You were her angels on the ground – giving her the special care that she needed and the love that she craved.

I would also like to give extend my deepest thanks to all those that helped support me through this difficult journey with my mom, especially my dear friends Guela, Linda, Tracy and Maura. Thank you to my sons Mike and Jon, who were ever so patient with my mom and would visit her on their own, something that brought her much happiness, especially when Jon spoke or read to my mom in German, her native language. And I must also thank the love of my life, my husband Dan, for loving me through it all and holding me up when I did not think I could continue to bare witness to my mom’s profound suffering.

Not long after she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I promised my mom that I would be there for her in the end. I found that journey over 13 years to be very difficult at times, but I am so grateful that I could be with my mom at the end for her last hour of life here on earth. I read Psalm 23 and her other favourite passages that she had underlined in her bible, and I whispered to her that we loved her and that it was time to join Peter and my father in heaven.


Her parting words to me on Saturday were “I love you more than you know”. It is those words that I share with you today, for although she might have said them sparingly, it was love that lived in her heart and that is her legacy. Her love lives on in each of us.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Art as Therapy at the Art Gallery of Ontario

"I am half sick of shadows,' said The Lady of Shalott" (Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Lady of Shalott, Part II), 1915 by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917) , Painting (oil on canvas 100.3 x 73.7 cm), , AGO Gift of Mrs. Philip B. Jackson, 1971. 
It was a quiet opening. There was no press preview and no gala. And yet, the opening of the exhibit Art as Therapy by philosopher Alain de Botton and art theorist John Armstrong heralded in a new way of interpreting art and engaging audiences in museums.

I have to admit my bias since I am a big fan of contemporary philosopher Alain de Botton's work, especially The Architecture of Happiness, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, The Art of Travel, and How Proust can Change your LifeAlain de Botton's writing is clear and to the point. He is also refreshing in his candour and willingness to take a fresh look at the world.

The premise of the book Art as Therapy is that the conventional presentation of art in chronological format is too simplistic and didactic. In almost all cases, paintings and other forms of artwork are presented with a label that reveals the artist's name, date of production and provenance. This information does not help us interpret or engage with the artwork. Art as therapy suggests that a thematic presentation of the artwork - in terms of how it makes us feel - would offer a deeper layer of interpretation and engagement for the audience. Showcasing art in terms of its intent - whether political or religious or emotional - would bring the audience closer to the artist's intent for the work.

The Marches Casati by Augustus Edwin John (1878-1961), Painting (oil on canvas 96.5 x 68.6 cm) , AGO Purchase 1934,.
At the Art Gallery of Ontario, this premise has been used with selected works from the AGO collection chosen by John Armstrong and Alain de Botton defined by the themes of politics, sex, nature, love and money. The works include ones by Van Gogh, Gerard Richter, Andy Warhol, Kandinsky, John Waterhouse and many others. Installed in five different galleries linked by yellow arrows on the floor, visitors can "embark on a journey of discovery that will find them exploring different art, and a different part of themselves, in each space, or station". According to John Armstrong and Alain de Botton, art has a "powerfully therapeutic effect. It can variously help to inspire, console, redeem, guide, comfort, expand and reawaken us.”

In walking through the installation, I was profoundly moved by the authors' interpretation of the artworks. In some cases, I was surprised to rediscover new interpretations of old favourites. I felt moved and challenged by the information offered on the labels. Sometimes I felt comforted and a little less alone. The work I saw felt more powerful than I had previously given it credit.

Last night, Alain de Botton and John Armstrong also gave a talk about the premise of the exhibit and their experience in curating the work at the AGO. Alain de Botton was funny and self-deprecating in a way that made me wish he wouldn't stop talking. John Armstrong offered a quieter, more reflective analysis that gave depth to their unconventional approach to art curatorial practice.

Les Sabots, 1768 by Francois Boucher (1703-1770), Painting (oil on canvas 62.2 x 52.1 cm)
AGO Purchase, Frank P. Wood Endowment, 1978. 
There was a question period afterwards and at least two of the questions seemed to have been framed in a hostile manner, but this did not fluster the presenters, who showed grace and good form in their responses. I honestly felt surprisingly star struck and was unable to ask my questions:

1. Is it not possible that each person sees something different in an artwork?

2. If galleries are grouped thematically, might it not prevent some people from engaging with that artwork if they thought they didn't need or care about love, sex or nature?

3. Sometimes artists create works and don't know why they have made that particular piece. They might write an artist statement afterwards - adding theory or artspeak - to give the illusion of depth when in fact, it was something deep, powerful and unspoken inside that precipitated the creation. Does it matter what their intent is in the end?

4. If it is true that we crave in art what we are lacking (in the world around us), why are "beautiful" paintings like that of Fantin Latour not more popular? The contemporary art world seems to look down on the creation of "pretty pictures" as lacking in depth and meaning, when, in fact, creating those pretty pictures might be salve for the soul.

Despite the fact that this low key show requires some effort and self-reflection, this is a show worthy of a special trip to the AGO. It is an opportunity to consider what role plays in our lives and offers a much needed and refreshing re-examination of art curatorial practice. The show will also be presented in the Netherlands and also in Australia. Of course, there is also the book.

Art Gallery of Ontario 
Art as Therapy, May 3, 2014 - April 26, 2015.

All images courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario

Notes:
Read my reviews of The Architecture of Happiness and How Proust can Change Your Life by clicking on the titles.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Fashion in the Museum: Dries van Noten Inspirations

 "I make clothes people can wear; I don't make art. There is no point to clothes that don't sell."
                          Dries Van Noten

Dries Van Noten Garden Inspirations
Where does the spark of inspiration come from? For Dries Van Noten, the sources of inspiration seem to be as varied as the multitudes of flowers that fill his garden (both real and imagined).

The exhibition Dries Van Noten: Inspirations at the Musée Les Art Decoratifs offers a sensory immersion into the designer's oeuvre by presenting his garments alongside a selection of objects that he has either used or linked to his work. Those objects are varied and include paintings, film, video, sculptures, as well as garments from the museum fashion archives including selections by Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli, Thierry Mugler, Paul Poiret, Callot Soeurs, and Chanel.

Dries van Noten Inspirations, Gallery Shot 
The room is very dark and labelling is minimal, but is provided in both French and English.

Dries van Noten Inspirations, Gallery Shot
Some of the artworks presented in the exhibition included:

Gorden Anthony Portrait of Cecil Beaton in costume (1937)
Nick Cave  Bunny Boy video
Yves Klein Blue Venus (1966)
Elizabeth Peyton Silver Bosie (1998)
John Singer Sargent Portrait of Gabriel Faure (1889)
Kees van Dongen Portrait of Madame Jasmy Alvin (1925)
Anthony van Dyck Portrait of a Man (XVIII century)
Victor Vassely Opus III (1976)
Li Xiaofeng's Porcelain Lacoste Polo (2010)

John Singer Sargent Painting of Gabriel Faure from 1889 in "Foppish" Gallery
The exhibit is a joyful exploration of a living designer's work, offering visual links between inspiration and product.  It was evident to me that Dries van Noten's garments are unique garments that are reflective of a post-modern design sensibility that dips in and out of time, mashing up imagery, silhouettes, textures and styles into a unique pastiche for the modern man and woman. 

Dries Van Noten Inspirations, Garden Gallery
Exhibition Summary: 

What: 180 garments by designer Dries Van Noten + 100 other artifacts (paintings, sculptures, videos and other objects) juxtaposed to showcase the links between inspiration and garment.

Where: Musée des Arts Decoratifs; 107 rue de Rivoli, Paris.

Curated by: Pamela Gobelin in conjunction with Dries Van Noten

Premise: Seeking connections between the garments created by Dries Van Noten and the inspirational spark that fuelled his creative process, including paintings, film, video, and the work of other designers such as Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Jeanne Lanvin, Elsa Schiaparelli, Charles Frederick Worth.

Organization: Thematic. Displays are grouped into galleries with titles like Gold, Graphic, Uniform, Foppish, Iconoclast, The Garden

Mannequins: Abstracted mannequin forms in black with no faces or hair. Many have articulated wooden arms with hands.

Displays: Behind glass cases with lighting emphasizing the forms.

When: March 1st to August 31st, 2014.

Price: 8 Euros (Advance tickets available online). 


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Fashion in the Museum: Upcoming exhibitions for Spring 2014

There can be no doubt that fashion exhibitions are in fashion, and the list of upcoming exhibitions of fashion in the museum is long.  I've highlighted some the exhibits that I am keen to see in spring 2014. 

Charles James Gowns photographed by Cecil Beaton, 1948

Charles James: Beyond Fashion
May 5 - August 10, 2014
Curators: Harold Koda and Jan Glier Reeder
Premise: “Charles James was a wildly idiosyncratic, emotionally fraught fashion genius who was also committed to teaching. He dreamt that his lifetime of personal creative evolution and the continuous metamorphosis of his designs would be preserved as a study resource for students.  In our renovated galleries, we will fulfill his goal and illuminate his design process as a synthesis of dressmaking, art, math, and science.” (Harold Koda) 
On display: 75 notable garments created by James from 1920 until his death in 1978
Exhibition Catalogue link here


Cover of Dries van Noten - Inspirations
Dries van Noten -- Inspirations
March 1 - August 31, 2014
Curator: Pamela Gobelin
Premise: "about everything that sparks the creative process" (Pamela Gobelin) 
On display: 150 garments paired with 200 artworks, photographs, film clips "that have triggered the designer’s imagination throughout his life and career"
Exhibition Catalogue link here



Cover of Coming into Fashion: A Century of Photography
Papier glacé or A Century of Fashion Photography at Conde Nast
March 1st to May 25, 2014
Curated by: Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, Minneapolis. 
Premise: thematically considers the links between photographers that have shaped the images of Vogue magazine
On display: 150 original prints from leading fashion photographers from 1918 to today plus 15 ensembles of haute couture from the Palais Galliera
Exhibition link here



Cover of Elegance in a Time of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s
Elegance in a Time of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s 
February 7 - April 19, 2014
Curator: FIT Deputy Director Patricia Mears and special consultant G. Bruce Boyer
Premise: "how clothing creators of the 1930s, despite the crippling financial crisis and dire political environment, spearheaded new stylistic ideas and wed them to emerging technologies"
On display:  Womenswear and menswear from the 1930s
Online exhibition link here
Exhibition link here

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Upcoming Lecture Series: The Social History of Dress in 19th Century Canada


Do you have some old family photographs but don’t know when they were taken? Do you know some of the major fashion innovations and stylistic changes in the 19th century that can be of help in dating old photographs?

If you want to learn more, please join me for this two-part lecture series at the North York Central Library branch in Toronto. This course is intended as a primer on the social history of dress seen in 19th century photographs from the Victorian age to the Edwardian age, with a special emphasis on Canadian history.

Victorian photography offers a glimpse into another time. Not long after photography was invented in 1839, the medium allowed families and individuals to preserve their likeness in a matter of minutes. For the first time in history, all classes of society could stop time, preserving the reflected light of their image for generations to come. These images are embedded with clues related to codes of dress and behaviour marking them as mirrors of their age.

The lectures will be illustrated and there will be handouts.  Weather permitting, I hope to bring in a small selection of 19th century artifacts, such as fashion journals, garments and accessories, as well as examples of Victorian photographs including a daguerreotype, tintype, carte des visites, and cabinet cards. To close, there will be a discussion on best practices for the care of old photographs and extant garments to assist with preserving precious family artifacts.

The lectures will be held on Tuesday, February 18th and 25th from 2-4 pm.

Advance registration is required. For further information, email courses@torontofamilyhistory.org or visit the Ontario Geneological Society website.



Sunday, December 8, 2013

What's on the December Fashion Exhibition Calendar

With the holiday season in full swing, stepping into a museum can bring a dose of beauty and grace into an otherwise busy schedule. Here are my top three picks of museum exhibitions for December 2013.


A Queer History of Fashion, FIT Museum
This exhibition celebrates the influence of gay and lesbian designers on fashion and traces the origins of cross-dressing to its historical roots. This exhibit, co-curated by Valerie Steele and Fred Dennis, literally blew me away by its originality and the depth of research that underpinned its creation. Since I had expected a show that was contemporary in focus, I was surprised to learn that there is a 300 year history to consider, going back to the 18th century when cross-dressing “mollies,” foppish “macaronis,” and “men milliners” challenged gender roles. "This is about honoring the gay and lesbian designers of the past and present. By acknowledging their contributions to fashion, we want to encourage people to embrace diversity," said Dennis on the FIT Museum site. With an innovative presentation format that I had not seen in the FIT gallery before which moved the focus to the centre of the gallery away from the walls, the exhibit is also visually stunning. The show closes on January 4, 2013, but is also accessible through an exhibition website

Monday, November 11, 2013

On Winning Awards

When this post goes live, I will be at Holt Renfrew about to deliver my speech at the Ryerson University School of Fashion Awards Night. I am not winning an award, but I am the guest speaker, which is typically chosen from the pool of alumni. I assumed it was my job to say some inspirational words, so I decided to share a bit of my own story.

I am not intending to read my remarks, so it might not come out exactly like this. I pre-cleared my speech with the Awards Committee and one of them suggested that maybe I should read it so I wouldn't "miss a syllable". Let's just hope that this is one of those times that my words sound golden.

Ingrid Mida with the Lanvin gown
Photo courtesy of the National Post

Here goes:

I already had a graduate degree when I signed up to do the Master of Arts degree at Ryerson.  But this is the degree I had to work the hardest for. For my MA in Fashion, I juggled the needs of my husband and two teenage boys, the responsibility for my elderly frail mother, work and many other commitments. I also had to deal with my insecurities and doubts about going back to school as a mature student. If truth be told, I almost dropped out at the end of first term, not because I couldn’t handle it, but because I wasn’t sure that it would make any difference in the end. With the encouragement of Dr. Kimberly Wahl, I stuck with it and earned a cumulative GPA of 4.220.  

Perhaps the best part of my story began on February 12, 2012 when Dr. Alison Matthews David opened an unmarked door for me on the seventh floor of the library. Behind that door was a dusty room, packed with boxes, bins, cupboards, and racks of clothing, accessories and fashion ephemera. While most of the other students were reviled by what they saw -- the dust, the mess and the smell -- I saw opportunity. I stepped forward and took on a project that was far bigger, messier, and more difficult than I ever imagined. 

This was not the first time I’d taken on a challenging project, and I’ll admit there have been more bumps in the road than I like to remember. I did not do it for thanks, for an award or for press. What drove me forward was the knowledge that most students do not have the curatorial connections that I do, or the financial means to go anywhere else to do object-based research. Behind that door in the library, there were gowns by Balenciaga, Balmain, Dior, Nina Ricci, Valentino and other designers. There were also Canadian success stories like Ruth Dukas, Claire Haddad, Alfred Sung, Marilyn Brooks and Canadian labels like Holt Renfrew, Eaton's Simpson's, and Morgan's. All of these items had been neglected and forgotten for several years. 

I think I’ve helped ensure that it will be forgotten no more. And, I’m pleased to say that the collection is now safely stored in renovated facilities in Kerr Hall West. The images that you see on the posters behind me are examples of some of my favourite pieces in the collection and I would like to acknowledge that these lovely photographs were taken by Jazmin Welch with the help of Kate O’Reilly. 

There are many more beautiful garments that were not photographed - including a stunning ruby red silk velvet jacket by Christian Dior that just today I matched to a photograph in Harper's Bazaar from September 1949.  - and I want to invite you to come and visit the Fashion Research Centre if you would like to see more. Or if you don’t have time to come in, check out the collection blog and Pinterest sites. Or follow me on twitter. My aim is to be the antithesis of the cranky curator – to make the Fashion Research Centre a welcoming and friendly place where there is no such thing as a stupid question. 

I would like to close by congratulating all of you for your achievements and awards. You should savour this moment and be proud of yourself. Celebrate and enjoy tonight.  I hope you will continue to follow your dreams and live your passions. Make your mark. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Book Review: The Wedding Dress, 300 Years of Bridal Fashion by Edwina Ehrman

Cover image of The Wedding Dress by Edwina Ehrman
Museum collections often receive many offers of evening or bridal wear, since these garments are emblems of the emotional ties that such special event clothing can have for the wearer. Wedding dresses, in particular, are loaded with symbolism and embody memories of that special day. In present times, a wedding gown is typically white and only worn once, but this wasn't always so. Unpacking the complex history of the wedding gown is a book by Edwina Ehrman, Curator of Textiles and Fashion at the Victoria & Albert Museum called: The Wedding Dress, 300 Years of Bridal Fashions.

This meticulously researched book draws on the extensive collection of wedding gowns in the Victoria & Albert Museum collection, as well as paintings, fashion plates, photographs, letters, memoirs, newspaper accounts and genealogical records. Not only does this book consider the history of the white wedding dress from 1700 to the present day, it addresses the cultural factors that have influenced and refreshed the stylistic changes over time.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

On this and that...

Dress Collection of the Lousiana State Museum
Photo by Ingrid Mida 2013
I don't usually ramble, but have not written on this blog in over two weeks. It feels like no time and a lifetime all in one. People often ask me how I get so much done, and yet I often wonder where does the time go?

If you missed it, there was an article written by Nathalie Atkinson of the National Post about my work in editing the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection called "Lanvin in the Library". My elderly mother, who was once a librarian, loved the title, and finally understood what it is that I do - to her, I'm like a librarian for old clothes! I've also had lots of questions about whether I ever try on clothes in the collection, and that is something that is strictly forbidden by International Committee of Museums Practice Guidelines. Doing so would be considered highly unethical. I cannot say that I haven't been tempted to do so - who can resist a Dior after all - but I must resist and I do. I've never, ever done so and shudder with horror and yell out "THAT IS NOT ALLOWED" when someone looks like they are going to....

I couldn't be more pleased with the coverage for the Collection. A very generous and kind donor (who prefers to remain anonymous) offered to cover the cost of the cataloguing software for the collection. This the first step in helping to ensure its longevity. Funding at the university is very, very tight, and since all fundraising efforts must be co-ordinated by the Development Office, technically I am not even allowed to ask for money.... But, I believe so very passionately in what I do and just love to help students, and hope and pray that a generous donor will step forward to help ensure this collection lives on.