Take a Peek Inside ‘Sara Berman’s Closet’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
White, white, white. And then more white. Sara Berman always wore white. Her life trajectory took her from Belarus, where she was born in 1920, to Israel, then to New York, where she passed away in 2004. As her artist daughters were cleaning out Berman’s Greenwich Village apartment, Maira Kalman said to Kika Schonfield that the closet should be a museum. Schonfield questioned Salman’s sanity.
But the joke turned into reality, and was first exhibited the next year in a freight elevator on Cortlandt Alley in TriBeCa. It was run by Alex Kalman, Maira’s son and Sara’s grandson. (Called the Mmuseumm, it has also exhibited a lone wool blanket that was left behind in the Arizona desert by a Mexican immigrant, and a cornflake collection.) But now “Sara Berman’s Closet” has hit the big time, moving into the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s American Wing, one of the 21 period rooms.
The closet displays Berman’s meticulously-arranged and immaculately-folded clothing, her shoes, linens and the rest of her modest wardrobe. Not everything is white, but the overall quantity tends toward white and light shades. A red pompom hanging from the overhead light switch is the pattern break.
The museum presents the Berman display through spring and summer in dialog with the 1822 dressing room of Arabella Worsham, an arts patron who married railroad tycoon Collis Huntington, decked out with the fashions of her day. The juxtaposition highlights the difference of scale and wealth, but an examination of their life stories show their similarities: both were women of modest means who created new lives for themselves in New York City.
The exhibit follows other recent memorial installations dedicated to parents’ past. Song Dong re-created the contents of his mother’s house in Beijing at the Museum of Modern Art, displaying the pack-rat tendencies of a woman who had suffered through the Cultural Revolution and the loss of her husband. Howard Fried displayed his mother’s last possessions at the New Museum last year.