Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Horst: Photographs - Fashion and Surrealism at the Dali

"Dali" by Horst

The special exhibits at the Dali Museum in St. Pete are always interesting. I kicked up my appreciation of the Museum's current exhibit -- Horst: Photographs - Fashion and Surrealism -- by sitting in on the monthly coffee with a curator.  The insights shared by Joan Kropf, curator of collection, were fascinating.

The show is a streamlined version of an exhibit at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London that included 400 photos by Horst. Susanna Brown from the V&A came over to help install the show at the Dali and train the docents. It's the only opportunity to see the exhibit in the United States.

Horst is best known for creating 94 gorgeous and innovative covers for "Vogue." I loved hearing about the relationships between Horst and his models. Russian model Lud was delivering packages when Horst discovered her.  Her exotic look was different from that of European and American models of the day. She was rumored--quite scandalously--to have had plastic surgery to reduce the size of her breasts and thighs to create the perfect silhouette for Horst. Her modeling years were cut short when she fell in love with a lion trainer and ran away with the circus.

While this image shows off the beautiful dress Lud is wearing, the set is equally captivating. Having apprenticed with LeCorbusier, Horst had a great appreciation for architecture.  A fan of Greco-Roman architecture in particular, he often created the sets himself that served as backdrops for the models.
"Lisa with Harp"

Dancer-turned-model Lisa Fonssagrives credited her career to Horst.  "I became a model because he made me one," she said. (Fonssagrives might be best known for her collaboration with Irving Penn, whom she married after they met on a shoot.)

Carmen Dell'Orefice also sang Horst's praises. "He saw me as a living sculpture to be projected through his photographs," she said. She lauded his understanding of how light falls upon an object.

The Mainbocher Corset
Horst's most famous photograph is probably "The Mainbocher Corset."  (Coincidentally, this photo was recreated by Sandro Miller with John Malkovich in the exhibit I recent saw at Yancey Richardson gallery in New York. John's back is more muscular.)  I learned two interesting tidbits about this photo during the talk. First, the designer's name is properly pronounced "Maine-Bocker" rather than "Man-bo-shay."  (Not surprisingly, he was a proponent of the incorrect pronunciation.) Second, when the photo ran in "Vogue," it was airbrushed to close the gap between the corset and the model on the left hand side of the image.  That small amount of space was apparently just too scandalous in 1939.

One of the fun things about the show is seeing actual pages from "Vogue" from the era. The 1940 discussion of corsets was particularly laughable (yet terrifying). "That smooth long torso line. Perhaps you have it, and merely smile a dreamy smile at the mention. Or perhaps you are one of the ones who are tired of hearing the sound of those words. If you are, what you probably need is a new corset."   

To see more online images by Horst, click here. But there's really nothing like seeing the photos in person, especially his platinum paladium prints. If you're interested in learning more about the techniques Horst used in his work, there's a free lecture at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 18th. Either way, it's definitely worth a trip to St. Pete to see the exhibit before it closes on September 6th.

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