New York

Jim Dine

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art

Twenty-seven of Jim Dine’s delightfully “mod” costume designs for A Midsummer Night’s Dream have been on view at the Museum of Modern Art this month. The drawings are wittily labeled, and emphasize the bawdy, improvisational aspects of Shakespeare’s play as it was produced by the San Francisco Actor’s Workshop in 1966, for which the designs were created. (See Artforum, May 1966.)

Dine’s sketches aptly echo the bold, anti-traditional and contemporary style of the production in their use of simulated textured fabrics (naugahyde, vinyl, army camouflage, fake fur, etc.) or in the superlatively obvious “campy” notions (extra-huge buttons, metal glitter, loops, head-to-toe zippers) he applies to these fashions. Although the characters are outlined with an amusing brevity, the intricate scribblings around them carefully point out the exact types of materials and attachments to be used for the costumes and sets. Peter Quince, a carpenter, is festooned with advertisements for his trade, his rough burlap pants and vest weighted with rows of loops and tools; while Moth, a fairy, is fitted with the furriest, most “insect-like” briefs, and the artist notes that even the face must be as green and hairy as that of the real lunar moth drawn beside him. The label also proposes that all “fairy-tale theatre feeling” is to be avoided by the design and use of the fabrics. Color swatches and collaged scraps of texture samples, ripped from magazine advertisements are pasted to the tracing paper drawings to further indicate the billboard brightness or sheen of the colors, or to illustrate the desired details for other effects. The irreverent suggestions leave one chuckling with a vivid sense of what the production was like, even without having seen it. The group of designs seem to reveal in Dine his true métier, allowing free rein to his brand of humor and style of drawing.

With figures such as Mustard Seed, whose wig is to be of “fairly repulsive” wet matted hair or fur; Oberon, in a “rather skin-tite” silver lame jumpsuit; Moth, in “foot to crotch” lunar green stockings; “blue bottomed” Titania, a-glitter in her rainbow bull’s-eye halter; or the lovers, multi-buttoned and belted to the hilt in color-paired satin greatcoats, Dine conjures a brilliant and imaginative cast for this modern “black comedy“ production. The rainbow motif is used throughout the set and costume designs, from the brightly banded proscenium arch and Wurlitzer juke-box to Oberon’s striped glove on his magic-making hand. Black plastic sheeting was hung as a backdrop, setting off the intense colors of the costumes, as well as the contrast between the real world and Dine’s fantastically garish figures.

Emily Wasserman