THE ETHICS OF THE INTERNATIONAL DISPLAY OF FASHION IN THE MUSEUM.

Author:Caponigri, Felicia
Position::The Art of International Law
 
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Contents I. INTRODUCTION II. FASHION AS CULTURAL HERITAGE III. THE INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL OF MUSEUMS AND ITS CODE OF ETHICS A. The International Council of Museums' Code of Ethics provides general principles of international law B. The standard that when there is a conflict of interest between the museum and an individual, the interests of the museum should prevail seems likely to become a rule of customary international law IV. CHINA: THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS AT THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART A. Anna Wintour and Conde Nast: A broad museum interest for trustees and a semi-broad museum interest for sponsors B. Andrew Bolton: A narrow museum interest for museum professionals V. THE GUCCI MUSEO A. The Gucci Museo as a museum B. Guccio Gucci, S.p.A. and Frida Giannini: The ultimate conflict of interest VI. CONCLUSION I. INTRODUCTION

Fashion's presence in the museum environment has become increasingly evident and pervasive. (1) While the Anna Wintour Costume Center of the Metropolitan Museum of Art may garner the most attention with its blockbuster exhibits such as Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, and China Through the Looking Glass, other museums across the globe also include fashion alongside traditional art works in their collections. Collections can be found in institutions in Italy (the Galleria del Costume in the Palazzo Pitti, the Gucci Museo, the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo in Florence, the Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi, and the Galleria Borghese's celebrated exhibit Couture/Sculpture: Azzedine Alaia in the History of Fashion in Rome), France (the Musee des Arts Decoratifs' Fashion Forward: 3 Siecles du Mode), and England (the Victoria and Albert Museum not only holds an expansive Fashion collection but regularly holds Fashion exhibits, including the recent The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014). (2) Fashion's common presence in museums transcends geographic boundaries and legal jurisdictions: it exerts an international presence.

The presence of fashion in the museum is not, however, exempt from the challenges, and proposed solutions, that accompany the presence of art in the museum. If anything fashion is more susceptible to them: fashion magazines regularly sponsor fashion exhibits, (3) fashion brands manage their own "museums," (4) and members of the fashion community serve as trustees to museums that put on fashion exhibits. (5) In organizing fashion exhibits, museum professionals must interact with fashion designers whose work they are exhibiting, (6) fashion magazine editors who may or may not act as trustees, (7) and with representatives of the corporate archives of fashion brands. (8) Conflicts of interest also pose a primary challenge accompanying the presentation of fashion in a treasured museum space. (9)

The International Council of Museums' Code of Ethics (ICOM Code) provides guidance for museum professionals, trustees, and sponsors as they seek to work together to present fashion in the museum. (10) Accordingly, this article examines crucial issues concerning the display of fashion in museums and its compliance with international law. First, the article engages with the crucial question of how fashion is cultural heritage, or, at least, how fashion can be considered a part of the ICOM Code's definition of heritage, and therefore within the scope of the minimum ethical standards it sets forth for its members and potentially for museums at large. (11) Second, the article presents the ICOM Code, contextualizing it within the ICOM's framework as a nongovernmental international public interest organization, and examines how the ICOM Code is a source of general principles of international law. (12) As part of this section, the article also highlights how one of the ICOM Code's ethical standards-that the museum's interest should prevail in the face of a conflict of interest between the museum and an individual-is seemingly becoming a rule of customary international law. (13)

In its fourth and fifth sections, the article enters the museum space and analyzes specific fashion exhibits and displays. First, it travels to New York City and The Metropolitan of Art in 2015 during the organization of the exhibit, China Through the Looking Glass [hereinafter referred to as China). Through the lens of the documentary The First Monday of May it looks at the behavior of Anna Wintour, editor in chief of VOGUE, artistic director for Conde Nast, trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Costume Center's namesake, and fundraiser extraordinaire, in light of the ICOM Code and the standard that the museum's interest should prevail in the face of a conflict of interest between the museum and an individual. (14) It also looks at the behavior of Andrew Bolton, curator in charge of China and now curator in charge of the Anna Wintour Costume Center, and his interactions with other museum professionals at the Met, including Maxwell K. Hearn, Head of the Asian Art Department, in light of the ICOM Code and its conflicts of interest provisions. (15)

Then, the article examines the Gucci Museo. Situated in the context of historic Florence and Italy's complex cultural property legal framework, the Gucci Museo calls itself a museum but may not be so under a strict interpretation of ICOM's museum definition. (16) The article directly engages with this question, emphasizing the importance of the issue in the face of Italy's recent incorporation of that definition into their regulations governing the administration of cultural property. (17) It then looks at the display of the Gucci Museo, highlighting the similar aesthetic experiences between it and Gucci's stores-both inside and without its Museo, and examining this similarity in light of the ICOM Code's ethical standards. Lastly, it looks to the display decisions of Guccio Gucci S.p.A. and its former Creative Director, Frida Giannini, noting how their management decisions seem to indicate a tendency to subsume any museum interest to business and personal interests. (18)

On a last note, this article and its author would like to emphasize the importance of caring about the ethics that accompany the display of fashion in the museum. Allowing museum professionals or trustees to effectively opt out of minimum international standards just because they are displaying fashion compromises the public's ability to appreciate certain items of fashion as part of our cultural heritage and to truly accept fashion in the museum space. In an atmosphere where many still see fashion in the museum as a trend and seasonal flash of interest, the ICOM Code may prove to set the classic standard for future fashion exhibits in the museum.

  1. FASHION AS CULTURAL HERITAGE

    While fashion's presence in the museum today may result in blockbuster exhibitions and more widespread acceptance, there are still those in museums and their environs who see fashion's presence as a trendy decision, a presentation of something that is not worthy of the term "Art." (19) The proffered explanation for this prejudice by fashion scholars is that a nineteenth century curatorial view still prevails in the museum: by many, fashion is still understood as a form of "feminine folly." (20) Fashion museums and scholars still try to apply the historical canons of art history onto fashion objects in the hopes of finding a form of legitimization. (21) A more obvious and relevant question, however, seems to be how fashion is cultural heritage.

    While the term "Art" is still used by some museums to inform their mission and collections policies, the term "cultural heritage" and "cultural property" is used in international instruments to regulate the movement, transfer, display and exhibition of objects that are significant for our world and global society. (22) Instead of entertaining whether fashion should be considered art, which would therefore make it cultural heritage, is it not more appropriate to determine how fashion in itself is cultural heritage? Is fashion, as the ICOM Code defines it, "[a] thing or concept considered of aesthetic, historical, scientific or spiritual significance"? (23)

    The International Council of Museums (ICOM) seems to consider that it is. The ICOM publication Key Concepts of Museology notes that the term heritage has been expanded since the 1950s to include "all material evidence of man and his environment." (24) Moreover, the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Costume (ICOSTUME) emphasizes that ICOM considers fashion to be part of the "heritage"-whether tangible or intangible-that museums and museum professionals manage. (25)

    ICOSTUME is an International Committee of ICOM, whose purpose is to provide a forum for "museum professionals and costume historians from all over the world to explore all aspects of presenting, preserving, researching and collecting apparel." (26) The use of the terms "apparel" and "costume" should not be read as an exclusion of fashion, but in actuality as an embrace of it. (27) The use of the term "Fashion" in itself by museums and museum curators today, is in fact a reflection of the evolving nature of fashion's place in the museum as part of collections of costume or dress. At the inception of the study of dress history, the term costume was used to refer to it, (28) while the term dress was used by American scholars in the place of the term costume, preferred by their Anglo-Saxon counterparts. (29)

    Fashion has historically been understood as clothing that is popular, or of the moment, which has "a social purpose, above and beyond those of function and aesthetics." (30) Again, this was initially a proverbial strike against fashion in the museum space, since the European 19th century's male-centric curatorial view understood fashion as a form of feminine folly and emphasized the importance of fabric alone rather than the entire construction and form of an item of dress. (31) As time has passed, however, the very social purpose of fashion has...

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