Susanne Bartsch: Art-a-Porter is a collection of custom gowns, costumes, and ensembles worn by a woman made famous in Manhattan during the 1980s and 1990s. She was married to David Barton (of extravagant gym notoriety) for fifteen years, and counts RuPaul (of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame) among her friends.
In 1981, she opened a boutique that would later became the center of downtown fashion in New York, especially for club and party performers. In 1987, she orchestrated a party at Savage, a nightclub in the bottom of the Chelsea Hotel, and a precedent was set:
The weekly parties became the place to see and be seen for a trendsetting group of New Yorkers and ushered in a new era in nightlife, one that mixed uptown and downtown, gay and straight, chic and street.
In 1989, driven by the devastation all around her, she threw the Love Ball in Manhattan and Love Ball II in both LA and Paris, and ultimately raised $2.5 million for AIDS research. Read more about Susanne’s life at Bartschland, her website.
The 35 designs on display at Art-a-Porter are intricate, flamboyant, some quite macabre. Each was uniquely created for Susanne, and a handful are early designs from names like John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, Thierry Mugler, and the late Alexander McQueen, some of whom she introduced to the American market through her eponymous store.
What’s most curious about the story of “the queen of the night” is how integral she was to the club scene and in encouraging talent and individuality among performers and artists, but how relatively unknown she remains outside of New York and certain circles.
Perhaps her name isn’t familiar in Tampa, but her fascinating story and warm personality become apparent as soon as you are up close with her expressive, taboo-busting garments. A charming collection of video clips about Susanne is also available for viewing.
I am guilty of missing most of the revolving collections at the Tampa Museum of Art (TMA). Since I have been involved with Gasparilla Festival of the Arts (GFA) for so many years, being on the premises usually means attending a GFA board meeting or helping administer the event itself. I have always admired the (new in 2010) building, but rarely make it upstairs to really savor what the museum’s curators have brought to our market. The newest exhibition is so cool however, I couldn’t miss out.
Susanne Bartsch: Art-a-Porter is open at the TMA now through November 12. Tickets are $15 for general entry.
The collection also serves as inspiration for the TMA’s annual CITY fundraiser, taking place in one week (Saturday September 9). Tickets for that event start at $50 for afterparty only.
On the subject of fashion and art, be sure to visit Dalí and Schiaparelli in St. Petersburg starting September 18 too—an entirely different but no less whimsical exhibition of art as fashion and vice versa.