Nothing Succeeds Like Excess: Rummage by Susie Brandt at the Design Center

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Deborah Warner of Moore College of Art and Suzie Brandt share a funny remark in front of Pad (1998-99), Brandt’s version of a traditional patchwork quilt, but made from shoulder-pads, and below the mantlepiece, Knees, Brandts’ variation on a stone wall created from stockings stuffed with batting

Suzie Brandt is not one of those artists who dresses in what my husband terms programmatic black; nor does she tend towards understatement. Brandt, who teaches at Maryland Institute College of Art, revels in color and pattern and for her, more is definitely more. It was an inspired idea to invite her to pick through the endlessly-interesting and under-explored textile collections of the Design Center (credit goes to independent curator, Julie Courtney and Design Center director Hilary Jay). Rummage ( on view through April 6) pairs her selection from the Design Center’s treasure trove with an overview of her own work. One delight of the exhibition is trying to figure out which is which.

Sample board in which Brandt pairs examples from the Design Center’s collection with her own samples inspired by historic textiles
Sample board in which Brandt pairs examples from the Design Center’s collection with her own samples inspired by historic textiles

The lobby pairs Brandt’s Barb (1993-2000) a quilt made of stuffed Barbie clothing hanging opposite a rack of Scaasi cocktail dresses and evening gowns, obviously designed for wealthy women who harbored fantasies of being flamenco dancers (if not show-girls). As my grandmother would have said, twenty years in the circus, and never lost a spangle.


Entrance to Suzie Brandt’s Rumage at the Design Center, Philadelphia University; Brandt on the right, Scaasi on the left

Brandt specializes in transforming the profane into – well, art. Who knew what could be made of Frederick’s of Hollywood undies? She made two large patchwork hangings of lace alternating with pantie crotches (no, not the ones with slits!) and managed to exhibit them in St. Peter’s Church in New York on the basis of their admitted resemblance to stained glass. Silk purses from sows’ ears indeed!


A brassiere of woven ribbons which I’d have sworn was an artist’s creation, but turns out to be something from the 1920s-30s which Brandt discovered among the Design Center collections

Brandt’s research in the collections turned up an amazing assortment of printed chintz samples from the nineteenth century with repeat patterns of dis-embodied women’s hands (pre-Surrealism), spider-webs and hardware such as pliers and thumbtacks (pre-Goth), and strangest of all, a pattern of dog’s heads on spikes (someone else will have to identify or interpret that one). And the hats! Confections of flowers that would have made their wearers resemble nothing so much as floral posies. As a culture we have certainly lost some of the imagination that these clothes reveal.


No, its not a floral arrangement, but a hat (unidentified designer, 1950s – think Mamie Eisenhower) from the Design Center collections

The exhibition is a celebration of rigorous research and handwork in the service of visual liberation and just plain fun. Don’t miss it!


Dam (2008), Brandt stacked cut and found fabrics to create a polychrome wall resembling sedimentary rock, with a sample board in the background

Tags

andrea kirsh, suzie brandt, the design center

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