Sneak Peak: ‘What Not to Wear: Women Sculptors’

Assistant Director Olivia Kohler-Maga discusses curating the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery’s apparel-inspired show.

Olivia_ Brady-Gallery
Assistant Director of the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery Olivia Kohler-Maga offers a behind the scenes look at the dynamic artists that created "What Not to Wear: Women Sculptors."
April 16, 2014

By Julyssa Lopez

The Luther W. Brady Art Gallery will close the year in style Wednesday night: “What Not to Wear: Women Sculptors” is its final exhibition of the semester, featuring the work of 10 contemporary female sculptors whose pieces are inspired by clothing. Using stone, wire, steel, vinyl and other surprising materials, the artists convey ideas revolving around how women face constant social pressure to look desirable, even if it means donning uncomfortable clothes.

Assistant Director of the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery Olivia Kohler-Maga curated the show, carefully selecting work from a roster of female artists that include two GW alumnae. She spoke with George Washington Today about the stories behind some of the exhibition’s unique and unconventional pieces.

Diane Simpson, “Box Pleats”

“This is the first artist I chose for ‘What Not to Wear.’ I had been familiar with her for years and knew she had many works that would fit the theme. She focuses on one item or element of clothing in each sculpture. Her works are so meticulous and detailed, even in their simplicity, but what really draws me to them is the amount of planning she puts into each one. When you look at the drawing that is hung near the sculpture, you'll see the notes about materials and fasteners, measurements for the work, and if you look even closer, you'll see where she changed her mind and re-drew an element.”

Michelle Jaffe, “Breastplate” and “Preying Mantis”

“Michelle Jaffe's works are some of the more abstract pieces in the show. In ‘Breastplate,’ she takes a piece of armor—something that is meant to protect you—and it becomes almost delicate and airy, floating off the wall. In case you think the work isn't fit for battle, the back edges are fitted with menacing, serrated edges. The piece next to it, ‘Preying Mantis,’ takes the forms a step further, likening it to an insect known for its attack.”

Mandy Cano Villalobos, "Undone"

“Mandy Cano Villalobos, M.F.A. ’06, is a GW graduate. I remembered this piece from her M.F.A. show in 2006. It's different from other works in the exhibition in that it’s not a sculpture based on clothing forms, it’s a sculpture made up of items that used to be clothing. When you get close to the work, you'll see that each ball of yarn is labeled with what it used to be and its previous owner, such as ‘Mama's white sweater.’ It's such a poignant piece for me because even though they don't look like clothing anymore, they still hold memories and emotions.”

May Wilson, Assemblages and “Ridiculous Portraits” Series

“May Wilson was a Baltimore artist before she moved to New York City and she was not afraid to use humor in her work. I got to meet her son, Bill, in New York when I was researching this exhibition and he told me he loved when someone looked at one of her works and laughed, since that was what she intended. We have both assemblages and pieces from her ‘Ridiculous Portraits’ series. The assemblages were made by dipping fabric in glue and then arranging it on a backing before painting it. She used found objects, recycled from their previous uses; one of the works in the exhibition is on a window from her son's house! The collages were made for friends, family and truly show the artist's humor. She pasted funny photo booth portraits of her face over magazine and book illustrations. I smile whenever I look at those—I feel like the artist is winking at me through them.”