Curated by Hamish Bowles and conceived by Oscar de la Renta, Institute Chairman, BALENCIAGA: Spanish Master was the first exhibition to consider the impact of Spain's culture, history and art on one of its greatest twentieth-century sons, the legendary designer Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895–1972).
Hailed as "Fashion's Picasso" by Cecil Beaton, Balenciaga's innovations transformed the way women dressed, from the opening of his Paris fashion house in 1937 until his retirement in 1968. His visionary designs and impeccable standards seduced generations of the best-dressed women in the world.
Following its inauguration by Her Majesty Queen Sofía of Spain, BALENCIAGA: Spanish Master officially opened to the public on November 19, 2010 and remained on view through February 19, 2011. The exhibition was conceived by Oscar de la Renta, Chairman of the Institute's Board of Directors, who worked closely with the exhibition team to develop and realize the show. Mr. de la Renta himself began his career in fashion working in Madrid at Eisa, one of the Spanish branches of Balenciaga's fashion empire.
The exhibition curator is Hamish Bowles, Vogue's European Editor at Large and the curator of the 2001 exhibition Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years, which opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art to widespread critical attention and acclaim, and later traveled to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston, The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, the Field Museum in Chicago, and Les Arts décoratifs, musée de la Mode et du Textile in Paris.
Showcasing more than seventy items of Cristóbal Balenciaga clothing and accessories, BALENCIAGA: Spanish Master was the result of an unprecedented collaboration between the House of Balenciaga in Paris and an American institution. Queen Sofia Spanish Institute is indebted to Balenciaga, which opened up its Archives and whose immense generosity enabled a unique loan of historically significant Cristóbal Balenciaga garments to the exhibition, in addition to access to the Archives' related materials and iconography. Masterpieces from this highly significant collection included Balenciaga's 1939 "Infanta" gown, and his four-point silk gazar dress of 1967 which illustrates the increasing abstraction and experimentation in his work.
In partnership with the Ministry of Culture of Spain, highlights from the Fundación Cristóbal Balenciaga included the extraordinary embroidered 1957 wedding dress of Sonsoles Díez de Rivera (daughter of Balenciaga's Spanish muse, the Marquesa de Llanzol), which is as splendid as the vestments of a Sevillana Madonna figure.
Additional objects such as matador boleros from 1946 and flamenco-inspired dresses from 1951 and 1961 came from museum and private collections in America and Europe. The material, some of which has never before been exhibited, included highly significant pieces from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, The Hispanic Society of America, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York, and the Texas Fashion Collection, as well as Mr. Bowles' own collection and those of leading private couture collectors such as Sandy Schreier. The pieces consisted of garments commissioned and worn by some of the twentieth century's most iconic taste-making women—Pauline de Rothschild, Mona Bismarck, Thelma Chrysler Foy, Doris Duke, and Claudia Heard de Osborne among them.
Related support material incorporated historical and regional Spanish dress.
The accompanying catalogue—written by Hamish Bowles; published by Rizzoli; and art directed by Alex González, Executive Creative Director of AR New York and former creative director of GQ, German Vogue, and L'Uomo Vogue - has as its focus the influence of Balenciaga's native country on the designer's creative process and work. The exhibition was designed by set designer Stefan Beckman, whose prestigious client list includes Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, Cartier, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
For Diana Vreeland, Balenciaga's "inspiration came from the bullrings, the flamenco dancers, the loose blouses the fishermen wear, the cool of the cloisters." BALENCIAGA: Spanish Master considers the influences on his designs of the country's great artists, from Zurbarán and Goya to Picasso, Sorolla and Miró, and of Spain's religious dress and ceremony, its royal history, its rich regional costume, its dance traditions, and the power and splendor of the bullfight.
Significant Spanish works of art and decorative arts supported the curatorial thesis of the exhibition to create a compelling, lively, and dramatic vision of Spain in all its glory, and the work of its most masterful designer.
Following its premiere at Spanish Institute, the original exhibition was expanded for presentation as Balenciaga and Spain at the de Young Museum in San Francisco from March 26 through July 4, 2011.
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All photos © 2010 Kenny Komer