Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones

Review

of an Exhibition

by Claire Buckley

Published on April 01, 2012, Modified on April 20, 2012

  • Description:

    Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones is on view at the Bard Graduate Center through April 15.

    This exhibition, arranged over three floors, looks to tell the story of the hat, from the moment it is imagined to its debut on the wearer’s head. It is divided into four main sections intended to trace this journey, “Inspiration”, “Creation”, “The Salon”, and “The Clients”. As I made my way into the first gallery, I immediately noticed the way in which the hats were displayed, behind glass cases along the walls, each piece individually mounted on stands of different levels. They were arranged in a way that suggested they should be admired, as works of art behind the glass. I found myself immediately wishing that the hats were displayed in a way that allowed for greater interaction, so that the viewer could circle around and see them from different angles.
    Despite their location behind the divider, I very much enjoyed viewing the different pieces. I had not known exactly what to expect entering the exhibition, but from this very first room I began to get a sense of the great diversity of hats in the show. Looking at the small bit of information provided for each piece, I was able to gather that these hats came from a wealth of places and variety of time periods. Furthermore the hats expressed an array of textures, colors, shapes, and materials, resulting in pieces both creative and surprising. After taking my time in this room, I walked up to the second floor. The part entitled “Creation” occupies most of this level, with one room dedicated to the remainder of the first section.
    In this area the hats are divided by material, grouped into categories such as knit, paper, feathers, fiber. Once again, I found myself amazed by the intricacies and artistry of the hats on display. At times I could not decide weather I would prefer try the hat on or take it with me to hang it on my wall at home. This floor held my favorite part of the exhibition, a three-dimensional recreation of the “atelier”, in this case a hat maker’s workshop. The space is intended to give a sense of character to the hat maker and to bring the work of the artist and the process of production to life. The small workshop is filled with rolls of fabric—scraps cover the floor, hatboxes are stacked on shelves and scarves hang from the ceiling. It is a space that invites exploration and discovery, but visitors are left to observe and admire from the outside, as each of the three viewing spaces are blocked by a gate.
    As I made my way up to the final level, past a display case holding one of FDR’s top hats, I came to notice the sense of quiet and calm that pervades the space. There were only a few other visitors there when I was and, as a result, I enjoyed the freedom to linger in front of the cases, to take my time looking at the pieces, and to move at my own pace, without being pressured by crowds of people.
    Additionally, I found the limited use of text and labels to be a nice decision. Informational text was provided for each piece (year, creator, name), text denoted individual groupings, and there was a brief introduction to each of the four sections. Other than this, the hats were allowed to speak for themselves; as a visitor, I felt I was able to appreciate the exhibition in a personal and enjoyable way, without worrying about stopping to take in too much text. The only time I felt I would like more information was during the “creation” section. I found myself wanting to know a little more about the actual process of hat making, how the idea transitions into a product. I don’t necessarily think that detailed text would be the answer, but perhaps pictures of the process with brief caption would suffice.
    The top floor is split between “The Salon”, which illustrates the experience and glamour of trying on hats, and “The Clients”, which focuses on the person underneath the hat, the wearer of the product. This final section presents a number of “famous” hats, made noteworthy by the person who wore them. The display includes Babe Ruth’s Yankees cap, a fedora worn by Mick Jagger, and a hat worn by Sarah Jessica Parker.
    All in all the show is a joy to walk through and the collection of hats is quite impressive. The exhibition is enjoyable and manageable, providing a nice insight into the creative process of hat making.

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