Wednesday, July 14, 2004

"Objects of Desire: Cars and Clothes of the Jazz Age" - Indiana State Museum - July 14, 2004 - 3 stars

Indiana's luxury autos from the '20s and '30s are presented as the works of art that they are in this appropriately straightforward display. Label text is minimal, but poignantly gives the scope of context for the cars and the clothes that accompany the single stellar examples of famous Indiana manufactured models: Stutz, McFarian, Marmon, Studebaker (from the Henry Ford Museum) and the Duesenberg. When a typical car price was $600 and under, the Duesenberg, a favorite of the Hollywood set, fetched $15,000. A short film of black and white stills, set to old jazz recordings, shows Gary Cooper next to his. The exhibit is such that you can really stand back and appreciate the distinguishing design hallmarks of each maker. But the clothes are most excellent as well (particularly because they hail from a pre-synthetic era), are natural and have body. Clothes from the time were typically pretty and made better by people who knew how to cut fabric and not just chop them up in a factory for mass production. All the gowns are amazingly elegant because they are so plainly cut, mostly on the bias. They predate any usage of big designer names and any other hierarchical pretensions because all clothes were basically made well. Actually, if you set aside cut and fabric, many of them aren't too different from dresses today with the exception of necklines and sleeves, which change with trends. Most elegant of all is a "Medieval" hand-dyed and stenciled deep green, silk velvet, plain, long-sleeve dress. It certainly should squash anyone's cartoon stereotype of what costuming during a time of mega mobsters like Dillinger and Capone, prohibition, Hollywood high life and all that comes with jazz was like. While the raccoon full-length coat on display was an OK example, the thick 1935 Brooks Brothers tuxedo was quite nice. The only thing better today is that synthetic blends offer lighter fabrics for men's wear. This exhibit space is not fussy and is such that you can practically envision yourself in the scenarios created for each car. Through Oct. 3, 2004; 317-232-1637. -Mary Lee Pappas

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