Fellini: Up Clothes and Personal

Costume exhibitions generally pose a challenge to their organizers and their audiences, simply because clothes are created to be worn, not displayed. Fashion designers show off their wares on runway models. Curators, however, must come up with other devices to bring empty garments to life.

The idea of turning costumes from the films of Federico Fellini into museum pieces seems particularly problematic. The late Italian director often selected his actors solely on the basis of their physical appearance, choosing from the carnivalesque parade of characters who lined up for casting calls at the door of Rome's Cinecitt… Studio. Among these he found the voluptuous madonnas, the dwarfs, the gluttons, and the crazies who would fill up his oneiric cinemascapes. The look of the costumes constructed by his designers was dictated by those actors' physical appearances, with the clothes heightening the personalities suggested by the actors' features. Fellini's leading men and women were also defined by a signature style: Marcello Mastroianni in his elegant slim suit and Anita Ekberg jutting out of a black dress in La Dolce Vita, Giulietta Masina's frail Gelsomina wearing a black bowler in La Strada.

Fellini: Costumes and Fashion, now on display at the Bass Museum, is an ambitious attempt to evoke the distinctiveness of these characters. The show, organized by the Il Centro per l'Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci in Prato, Italy, features 80 costumes from Fellini's best-known films, resurrected from designers' closets and the vaults of costume companies, and then meticulously repaired. Fellini had his lengthiest association with costume designer Danilo Donati, with whom he worked on seven films, starting with Satyricon in 1969 and continuing through 1987's Fellini's Intervista. Piero Gherardi, Gabriella Pescucci, and Maurizio Millenotti were some of the other theatrical artists whose designs were featured in Fellini films. The clothes were created at a number of prestigious Italian costume houses or in a huge workshop set up at Cinecitt….

Almost all of the costumes are displayed on faceless black-velvet mannequins at the Bass, and these anonymous supports make it easier for the viewer to envision the clothes in their original context. (One incongruous, frowsy department-store mannequin wearing a spangled bikini points up how wise a choice the black-velvet forms were.) Exhibition curator Ida Panicelli, director of the Prato museum, decided not to organize the garments by film, but rather according to how they represent common themes in Fellini's work: The Spectacle; The Church; Food and the Joy of the Table; Seduction and Love; Women; and Travel, Death, and Dreams. Enlarged stills of significant scenes from Fellini's films (Mastroianni and the sea creature from La Dolce Vita, the ocean liner Rex from Amarcord, Donald Sutherland in pouffy wig and face powder from Casanova) are hung next to or behind some of the clothes. And video monitors showing a montage of clips from the movies in which the costumes were worn are placed around the galleries, creating an appropriate cacophony of musical snippets and Italian dialogue.

All this results in a daring display that comes off surprisingly well in the Bass's rather cramped quarters, successfully illustrating the importance of fashion in the realization of Fellini's fantasies. The exhibition also includes clothes by contemporary Italian designers -- some made specifically for the show -- inspired by Fellini's movies; these include Moschino, Valentino, and Dolce & Gabbana. While inventive, they seem superfluous in this context, paling next to the original costumes.

At the entrance to the museum, three mannequins wearing bright-color tunics from 1970's The Clowns stand on a two-tiered yellow and red platform that recalls a circus ring. The clown outfits more closely resemble those worn by Picasso's harlequins than they do the attire of Barnum & Bailey buffoons. Ample enough to allow movement, although not bulky, they look sleek and could even be called chic. Constructed from cotton, taffeta, or velvet, the circus costumes are painted or embroidered with sophisticated designs that correspond to the fashions of the time in which the movie was made. One, covered in large sequins, recalls Paco Rabanne's gold metal fish-scale dresses; another looks like a Pucci print. Two other clown mannequins are mounted high on the walls on either side of the platform. They look as if they have jumped up there, or were flung from a trapeze. Hanging mannequins on walls to create a sensation of movement is a frequent display technique here, and it makes the costumes appear animated.

In the main gallery, mannequins wearing examples of magnificently tailored clerical robes are gathered on an altarlike platform and clustered on wooden block-shape stands. An absurd ecclesiastical fashion show from Fellini Roma plays on a monitor on the floor, and the costumes here, from Casanova, similarly exhibit Fellini's irreverent attitude toward the Catholic Church. These include nuns' habits in sinfully rich velvet and cardinals' robes in a shade of red more suitable to a Roy Lichtenstein painting than to the Vatican's chambers.

In Casanova and other films, Fellini reconstructed historical scenes from his point of view. Reflecting his skewed version of events, the films' costumes combine period design with elements that are somehow inappropriate or weirdly modern. Several tunics from 1969's Satyricon (in the Food and Joy of the Table section) are shaped like those worn in ancient Rome, but their crushed-velvet fabrics in deep yellow, orange, and brown distinctly recall the "rich hippie" look worn by stylish young Europeans at the time the movie was made.

Fellini often caricatured the Italian obsession with style by placing his female characters in unsuitably elaborate fashions, such as those worn by Giulietta Masina's sisters and friends in Juliet of the Spirits. There are several examples of these overwrought garments in the museum's second-floor galleries, most notably some huge-brimmed hats covered with miles of tulle and impossibly perfect silk roses. Fellini's parodic eye also focused on folk art; two dresses from Voices of the Moon are decorated with the kind of raffia flowers often found on the handbags tourists buy in Palermo. Elsewhere the costumes are more serious and simply elegant. The second-floor's Travel, Death, and Dreams section features a stunning group of women's traveling suits in black and white velvet, silk, and chiffon from And the Ship Sails On, plus a dark nobleman's outfit made of black damask silk and lace, topped with a plumed black-felt tricorn hat.

The craftsmanship of the clothes on display here is exquisite. Even the most fanciful robes or elaborate gowns are ingeniously designed to accommodate the hyperactivity that Fellini often required of his characters. "Fellini: Costumes and Fashion" is a pleasing homage to the great director, and a fitting tribute to the mastery of Italian tailoring.

"I used to think photography was for nerds, people who had no life," says Josh Matos, an eighteen-year-old senior at South Dade High School. "I thought you took pictures, you put them in a scrapbook, and that was it. Now I look at photographs in a different way."

Matos and three other high school students learned to use photography to express themselves during an eight-month Literacy Through Photography project at Planned Parenthood's Teen Center, a clinic and counseling center for teenagers in Homestead. Miami-based photographer Sharon Gurman Socol sent the group out on assignment with point-and-shoot cameras to take photos that they felt represented their families, their communities, or their dreams. They also took self-portraits and documented what they defined as stereotypes in their neighborhoods and in their schools.

In a small conference room at the Planned Parenthood facility, decorated with charts of the reproductive organs and pictures of birth-control products, the teenagers met weekly with Socol to discuss the resulting pictures; they also wrote essays to describe those images that they felt were most significant. "Let me start by saying that I have a very big, proud, and strong family. Mi familia," Matos writes in text that accompanies a photo of a couple dancing in their small living room as their children look on. Two cowboy hats rest on a sofa in the middle of the room. "Even though we're Hispanic and are considered minorities, we never walk with our heads down."

Other photos by Matos, Patrisa Fairclough (sixteen), Demetrius Gholar (eighteen), and Kawanda Woods (eighteen) depict manicured yards spotted with newly planted palm trees, siblings separated by divorce, a Goodwill outlet, a school study hall, a living room decorated with a Christmas tree, and a small African statue.

An exhibition of the photos, "From Our Point of View: Teens Focus on Their Life Through Words and Pictures," will be on display at the center (370 NE 8th St., Homestead) from April 11 to May 8.

Fellini: Costumes and Fashion. Through April 7. Bass Museum of Art, 2121 Park Ave, Miami Beach; 673-7530.

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Judy Cantor