When “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” opened last month at the Museum of Modern Art — becoming the institution’s first show to focus on clothing design in its 70-some years — Emily Spivack, too, had already given a considerable amount of thought to clothes as they relate to MoMA. The T contributor and author of “Worn Stories” spent many days at the museum’s archive and library after the show’s curators invited her to contribute in an ancillary way. “I asked to pull files of what MoMA visitors looked like in the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s — did people get dressed up, for example? — and there wasn’t really any documentation,” Spivack says. “That was intriguing to me.” She managed to track down a longtime (and now retired) front-desk employee who remembered Andy Warhol periodically standing by the coat check, snapping photographs of museumgoers.
Spivack updates this premise, and turns it inward, with a new project: “An archive of everything worn to MoMA from November 1, 2017, to January 28, 2018.” She has positioned prompts throughout the museum that ask visitors to describe their own outfits or that of their companions, via text message. The words are then projected onto the museum’s walls and collected online. “There’s so much out there right now that’s overtly visual; this is different than snapping a photo and sending it,” she explains. “This project encourages you to think about your clothing. It’s an opportunity to ask, ‘Why did I make these decisions and what do they say about me?’”
She expects the submissions to range from straightforward, brand-heavy checklists to more nostalgia-driven, poetic accounts. “What I love,” she says, “is all of those voices coming together and getting to see what kind of story will emerge from that.” Ultimately, the series of descriptions will be printed out, bound and placed in MoMA’s archives.
“An archive of everything worn to MoMA from November 1, 2017, to January 28, 2018” runs through Jan. 28 at MoMA, 11 W. 53rd Street, New York, moma.org.