Designer’s Art Collection Is a Passionate Triple Mix
By KAREN ROSENBERG
Fashion designers are some of the most original collectors, as the art world was reminded when works owned by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé hit the block in Paris in a sale organized by Christie’s a couple of years ago. And the designer need not be a European couturier; “Mannerism and Modernism: The Kasper Collection of Drawings and Photographs,” at the Morgan Library & Museum, celebrates the unusual collection assembled by Herbert Kasper, the American designer whose garments were sold at Lord & Taylor and other department stores from the 1950s through the ’80s.
The occasion for this exhibition of some 100 works is Mr. Kasper’s 11-piece gift to the Morgan (that number includes partial and promised gifts). These sorts of collection shows can be relentlessly sycophantic, but this one is redeemed by its idiosyncrasies.
For one thing, Mr. Kasper collects in several well-defined areas: old-master drawings, modern and contemporary works on paper, and (mostly recent) photography. So the show, as a Morgan curator writes in the catalog, is really “three collections in one.”
And while some contemporary fashion designers view their art collections as an extension of their brands, Mr. Kasper’s approach is more instinctive. One might not expect a designer known for his affordable American sportswear to gravitate to the Italian Mannerists, or the art brut of Jean Dubuffet, or experimental photographs by Adam Fuss — but Mr. Kasper is clearly passionate about all of them. After a while this unmuseumlike mix starts to make sense. As a visiting dealer once told Mr. Kasper, the collection has “a thread.”
It helps that the Morgan’s curators, with assistance from Axel Vervoordt, the dealer-designer-tastemaker and Philip Feyfer, the art historian, have loosened up their typical installation structure. Drawings and works on paper hang in the East Gallery and photography in the West, but the contemporary artist Vik Muniz’s irreverent homages to Bernini and Delacroix infiltrate the ranks of Mannerists. Smaller pieces hang in clusters, emphasizing Mr. Kasper’s eclectic frame choices.