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The art of staging a blockbuster


Growing up in the southwestern Pennsylvania town of Republic, Matthew Yokobosky visited the local tailor almost every day after school. “His name was Danny Mariotti and I would go watch him sew,” he said.

There were the Trevallini sisters, whom he loved to watch constructing jeweled flower arrangements and wedding bouquets. “Oh, and Charlie Angeloni, the cobbler,” he added with the uncommon reminder that over the years has served him well.

“His memory is like a superpower,” said Anne Pasternak, director of the Brooklyn Museum, one of the factors that prompted her in 2018 to appoint Mr. Yokobosky as the museum’s senior curator of fashion and material culture.

His latest appointment marks a high point in a career that has taken him from the Whitney Museum, where he served for 12 years as curator of film and video (and moonlit as set designer and costume designer at the experimental theater La MaMa). In Brooklyn, he served as Director of Exhibit Design before assuming his current position.

“He’s a creative brilliance,” Ms. Pasternak said. “His eye is in the present and he cares deeply about the visitor experience, qualities not usually found in a single curator.”

A cultural polymath, Mr. Yokobosky, 57, may well be among the most inventive and prolific museum curators you’ve ever heard of, praised – or criticized – for an aesthetic that moves from the ultra-rarefied to the blazing bald.

Usually, and somewhat anonymously, dressed in black-on-black, his streaky gray hair severely slicked back, he has developed a personal style that is as understated and artfully manicured as his shows are theatrical.

“Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams,” one of the museum’s most lavish exhibits, is housed, blockbuster-style, in the museum’s Cour des Beaux-Arts, the first exhibit in 40 years to be staged in what usually serves as rental space. (It will be the site of a cluster of events marking the 75th anniversary of the house of Dior on February 12.)

The show, which had its inaugural exhibition in Paris in 2017 and was curated by Dior specialist Florence Müller, has been modernized for an American audience to highlight Christian Dior’s tenure in America, with groupings of little black dresses and other designer pieces. Label focused on New York.

The exhibition is rich with distinctive creations from Dior and a pantheon of successors, including Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano, Marc Bohan and Raf Simons. It ends with a convivial gallery of Dior-draped stars: Princess Diana, Elizabeth Taylor and Rihanna, to name a few.

With its floor-to-ceiling screens, video installations, and mirror-room effects, it’s all dazzling, easily eclipsing “In America,” the concurrent and relatively sedate show of American fashion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As Zachary Woolfe, the New York Times’ classical music editor, wrote, “There’s a kind of role reversal here: Brooklyn’s rambling museum houses the glam juggernaut, while the mighty Met hits a softer side, more modest and (dare I say) underground pose.

“Dior,” which ends Feb. 20, is the latest in a string of shows Mr. Yokobosky has engineered or overseen — David Bowie, Pierre Cardin and Studio 54, among the most memorable — that promise to place the extravaganzas of Brooklyn fashion in competitive markets. on par with those at the Met and elsewhere in town.

At least as impressive, as he led a visitor through the show, is Mr. Yokobosky’s seemingly encyclopedic mastery of the mysteries of fashion. Christian Dior, was more enterprising than most people imagined, he noted, selling off-the-shelf suits and dresses more than a decade before Pierre Cardin introduced the famous concept of ready to wear.

Also extraordinary, Mr. Yokobosky said, “is the elegance with which Dior has thought things through.” It tells the story of Magda, a customer of the house, who during a lunch at the couturier in the 1950s, lamented having lost an earring. No matter. “I know what to do,” Dior assured him. With that, he rushed forward, returning with a sheet and pinning it to his lapel, a gesture the curator found spontaneous and witty.

He can, in his own way, turn on a penny. He was as gracious when a visitor mistook him for a museum guard as when he met Beth DeWoody, the prominent art collector and philanthropist, who had stopped to admire a Dior hourglass dress. with a full skirt, an iconic post-war silhouette that had Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Carmel Snow exclaiming, “Dear Christian, what a new look you have!”

The show attracted a list of high profile fashion and screen visitors including Katie Holmes, Anna Sui, Christy Turlington, Tim Gunn and Reese Witherspoon, many posing for selfies on Mr Yokobosky’s Instagram . This platform is indispensable, he said. When the pandemic abruptly shut down the Studio 54 exhibit in early 2020, he turned to his food, he said, “to keep the flame burning.”

“Twenty years ago,” he said, “a primary consideration when putting together a show was, ‘What happens when you walk through the door, where do you want people to look? , what happens when they turn around.

He always approaches each project with an architect’s eye. He likens the experience to building a small town, with visitors meandering through a web of unfamiliar streets. Where do you want them to look?

The most pressing question now is, “How does this look on social media?” Mr Yokobosky said, adding that he aimed to make the whole of “Dior” “Instagrammable”.

Such a strategy has given the museum’s fashion exhibits a noticeable advantage over similar fare at the Met, where fashion is, more often than not, on display in a somewhat cluttered basement with limited internet access. “It’s hard to take a picture there, and if you get a picture, you can’t even send it,” Mr Yokobosky said coldly.

To some critics, the show, with its generous focus on celebrities and displays devoted to Dior perfumes, seemed overly promotional, designed, as Mr Woolfe suggested, to “shine the brand and displace the merchandise”.

Mr. Yokobosky responds to such remarks with serenity. The focus on stardom “kind of comes with the territory,” he said. “If you go to an art exhibition, you want to know who the lenders are, who owns this or that painting. As a fashion curator, you can make a strictly academic exhibition based on the work of historians and scholars, or you can create a bridge to a wider audience.

He approaches his private life with equal calm. During a 12-year relationship with a psychoanalyst, he spent four days a week on an analyst’s couch. With a subsequent partner, he underwent several months of couples therapy. “Those times were bumpy,” he recalls. “My brain was so exercised.”

Her current relationship with a neurologist has given her some peace of mind, as has an unwavering health regimen. “At the end of a day, an hour on the elliptical machine clears my mind,” he said.

But training, no matter how rigorous, has done little to dull an ambition that may well be nurtured in the bone. “I’ve always been academically competitive,” he said. “I wanted the straight A’s. I wanted the perfect score. I wanted this price.

“As soon as ‘Dior’ opened, I immediately put on my mask and ran to Met,” he recalled. “I had to see what was going on.”

He is driven, he would say, by necessity. “I feel like people who buy a ticket to ‘Dior’ could buy a ticket to a movie or a museum or a sporting event for the same price,” he said. “They think, ‘What option am I going to take time for this week?’ As a curator, you have to ask yourself, ‘How am I going to make mine more interesting?’ »