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Exhibition Review: William Ivey Long: Costume Design 2007-2016

Exhibition Review: William Ivey Long: Costume Design 2007-2016

The Mint Museum (September 23, 2017-June 3, 2018)

The first in a series of costume and fashion exhibitions at The Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, William Ivey Long: Costume Design 2007-2016 features costumes from five recent theatrical productions, including The Lost Colony (redesigned 2007-2008), The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012), Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (2013), Little Dancer (2014), and On the Twentieth Century (2015). Also on display are pieces from the productions of Grease Live! (2016) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again (2016). While featuring pieces from these recent works, the exhibition also provides insight into Long’s process by displaying sketches, swatches, and mood boards. The inclusion of secondary materials throughout the exhibition provided crucial information necessary to further understand Long’s career.  

A Raleigh, North Carolina native, Long (b. 1947) was raised in the world of the theater. His father was a technical director and professor and founded the theater program at Winthrop University. Long’s mother was an actress and taught high school theater for twenty-one years. During summer breaks, the entire Long family (including Long’s brother and sister) worked on the outdoor production of The Lost Colony at Manteo, North Carolina. After graduating high school, Long earned a degree in history at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Following some time at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Long transferred to the Yale School of Drama, where he earned an MFA in set design in 1975. Following a move to New York, Long worked as an assistant to the couturier Charles James from 1976-1978. To date, Long has received Tony Awards for six productions. According to the Mint Museum, “In addition to Broadway productions, Long has designed costumes for hundreds of other projects, including operas, dance performances, films, television shows, and the entertainers Siegfried and Roy.”

Located at the Mint Museum Uptown, the exhibition opens with a look at the inspiration behind the costumes for each production on display. Continuing into the exhibition, visitors are greeted with three costumes from The Lost Colony. Upon first glance I was impressed with the exhibition design. Each setting artfully communicates the on-stage design unique to each production. The backdrops are produced in black and white, which allows visitors to truly appreciate the design and craftsmanship behind each individual costume on display.

Following The Lost Colony, visitors are strategically taken through the remaining six productions. Immediately after The Lost Colony, visitors have the option of viewing designs from Little Dancer or Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. A particular favorite of mine was the main design from The Little Dancer, which was inspired by Edgar Degas’ statue Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (currently on view at the National Gallery of Art). Following Little Dancer and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, museum-goers are taken through On the Twentieth Century and The Mystery of Edwin Drood before coming to costumes from Grease Live! and the finale of The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again.

The presentation of costumes and supporting materials from Grease Live! immediately provoked a strong feeling of nostalgia. During my time viewing the exhibition, I noted numerous visitors expressing excitement over the costumes from Grease Live! Not only did the infamous T Birds and Pink Ladies ensembles set in front of lockers provoke sentimental feelings, but the nearby mood boards also harkened to a much-missed period in American history. The inclusion of images of John Travolta, as well as cultural icons like James Dean harkens back to a bygone era and tied visitors to the exhibition in an emotional manner.

The most recent production of Long’s career, The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again aired live in 2016. In his designs, Long stayed true to the original designs of the 1975 cult classic while incorporating updates for the twenty-first century. A truly spectacular production to end with, William Ivey Long: Costume Design 2007-2016 ultimately leaves visitors with an understanding of Long’s creative process, as well as a feeling of gratitude for the role Long’s designs play in bringing theatrical productions to life.

An exhibition catalogue accompanies the exhibition; written by Annie Carlano, Senior Curator of Craft, Design, and Fashion. Dubbed “The Year of Fashion,” The Mint Museum of Art will feature three costume and fashion exhibitions through the fall of 2018. The upcoming exhibition schedule includes Charlotte Collects: Contemporary Couture and Fabulous Fashion opening at the Mint Museum Randolph on October 14, 2017, which will feature couture designs by Carolina Herrera, Giambattista Valli, Jason Wu, and other notable designers.

Please note: there are two locations at the Mint Museum (the Mint Museum Uptown and the Mint Museum Randolph). Check www.themintmuseum.org for up to date information regarding exhibition locations and operating hours.

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