Curating International Inspiration: The Donald and Joan Damask Collection


Associate Curator Christina Johnson recently curated an eclectic exhibition at the FIDM OC Gallery. In today's post, she describes how she combined diverse objects, from an Armani suit to a Chinese bamboo garment, into a cohesive, intriguing exhibition.


International Inspiration: The Donald and Joan Damask Collection is an exhibition currently on view at the FIDM OC Gallery. It celebrates a major gift of vintage fashion and world costumes, photographs, and rare art books given by the Damasks to the FIDM Museum in the summer of 2013. All of these objects were collected by the Damasks over the past 30 years. Their professional lives have focused on luxury marketing and fashion; their broad collecting vision serves as inspiration for this work and resonates with their shared personal aesthetic.  Exhibit28-19
Donald Damask with a 1979 Giorgio Armani suit (2013.1250.115AB).

It probably goes without saying, but it’s important for a curator to have a clear visual and contextual intent in starting to plan an exhibition. My intent in curating this exhibition was to present an overview of the extremely varied objects given by the Damasks and provide background information about the objects themselves (all in a limited amount of space!). My challenge was to have the exhibition visually “flow” –just as the pieces did when displayed in the Damasks’ home. Exhibit28-16Gallery overview of International Inspiration

Some of the objects I chose included: a hand-stenciled velvet Fortuny jacket from c. 1920, a traditional Chinese undergarment made of bamboo beads, a modern Armani suit, and a Spring-Summer 1999 Prada paper top. Add to this photographs of Christian Dior’s haute couture taken by Willy Maywald (1907-85) and Cecil Beaton’s (1904-80) portrait photos of the rich and royal. Keeping my intent in mind, it helped me to think about these international objects in terms of pure visual form: shape, color, and texture. Suddenly, the Chinese bamboo undergarment and Fortuny jacket didn’t seem so aesthetically removed from one another—both are short T-shapes, have muted, cream-colored highlighting, are extremely detailed close-up, light in visual feel, and look great abstracted into a two-dimensional plane.  Exhibit28-15Jacket (left)
Designer: Mariano Fortuny
Venice, Italy, c. 1920
Silk velvet & metallic paint
Gift of Joan Beer and Donald Damask

Jacket (right)
China, c. 1900
Bamboo beads & cotton
Gift of Joan Beer and Donald Damask

I love seeing how things were originally worn and styled. The Elsa Perreti ivory cuff for Halston, carved to accommodate the bony knob of a woman’s wrist, is displayed against the 1971 Vogue magazine it appears in, as photographed by Irving Penn (it’s on the model’s right wrist). I love the juxtaposition of minimalist cuff design with maxi caftan and masses of chunky jewelry.  Exhibit28-20Bracelet
Elsa Peretti for Halston
France, 1971
Carved ivory
Gift of Joan Beer and Donald Damask

Being a curator is a privilege, in part because you get to see and examine so many amazing objects.  But it’s also a delight to get to know donors like the Damasks. Their generosity in gifting their collection to the FIDM Museum is truly inspiring. Exhibit28-18L to R: Donald Damask, Kevin Jones, and Christina Johnson

“We decided to donate our beloved collections to the FIDM Museum because it was time to share them with other people. We got great enjoyment out of collecting and we want people to feel the same kind of excitement. Through these collections, we are sharing knowledge.” Donald and Joan Beer Damask, 2014.Exhibit28-14L to R: Donald Damask, Kevin Jones, and Joan Beer Damask


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