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Back to the Future Art to Wear



Back to the Future: Reflections on Off the Wall: American Art to Wear at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Presented by Dilys Blum Saturday, January 16, 2021, 10 am PST

Online Presentation via Zoom

Admission: Free to TAC Members, $5 Students and members of FAMSF, $10 General Admission.

Zoom registration link will be emailed to all TAC members. Non-member tickets/registration here via Eventbrite


The American art to wear movement has been long overlooked and marginalized by art and craft historians alike. With fiber art now accepted in the art historical canon, Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Off the Wall: American Art Wear proposed a similar reevaluation, focusing on the art to wear movement’s pioneering artists who came of age between San Francisco’s Summer of Love in 1967 and the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. For these artists art and life were inseparable. The body became the armature for unique works that could be worn or alternatively be displayed on the wall or on a pedestal.

The 62 artists and 115 works featured in the exhibition drew from the promised gift to the Museum of 48 works from the collection of Julie Schafler Dale as well as loans from artists, private collectors and museums. The majority of the works were exhibited for the first time. Unfortunately, the exhibition was cut short when the museum closed in mid-March due to the pandemic, but this lecture documents its impact.


The exhibition explored American art to wear through the eyes of its first generation and in the context of the dramatic artistic, cultural, social, and political changes that took place from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s. The lecture will reframe art to wear, viewing it not as fashion but as a new vision contemporaneous with fiber art. It will be linked to the radical changes in American art education and art making and explore the role of forward thinking museums and galleries such as the Museum of Contemporary Craft under Paul J Smith, Sandra Sakata’s Obiko in San Francisco and Julie Schafler Dale’s Julie: Artisans’ Gallery in New York. The discussion will further reflect on the exhibition’s nine intersecting themes inspired by popular music of the times from Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are A Changin’” (1964) and Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman”(1971) to Neil Young’s “Oh, Mother Earth” (1990). The works exhibited in Philadelphia represented a multitude of materials, techniques and forms. Voluptuous free-form crochet and decorative machine-knitted and resist-dyed kimono contrasted to energized works collaged and assembled from everyday objects, while others featured detailed drawings and paintings. The collective effect left little doubt as to the creativity of the art to wear movement’s artists and their influence on American art.

Dilys Blum is The Jack M and Annette Y Friedland Senior Curator of Costume and Textiles at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She has organized major groundbreaking exhibitions such as Shocking: The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli(2003-2004), Roberto Capucci: Art into Fashion (2011) and Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love (2014). Off the Wall: American Art to Wear (2020) was co-curated with Mary Schoeser, a freelance writer and curator based in the UK whose work frequently engages with contemporary textile arts practice. Schoeser studied with several of the movement’s artists at the University of California, Davis. The exhibition’s accompanying book featuring a series of essays by Blum, Schoeser and gallerist Julie Dale was co-published by Yale University Press.

Image Credits: 1. Janet Lipkin, Flamingo Jacket, 1982. Hand-dyed, machine-knitted, and stuffed wool and angora. Promised gift of The Julie Schafler Dale Collection. Photography by Otto Stupakoff ©Julie Schafler Dale. 2. Sheila Perez Ghidini, Combat Vest, circa 1985. Molded plastic figures on quilted plain weave supplemental warp and weft patterning. Promised gift of The Julie Schafler Dale Collection.


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