Glenn Close visits IU to view exhibit based on her costumes

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Costumes are an extension of the character themselves. They rustle, they glitter, they sparkle, they shimmer and shine. They show the heart of who wears it, completing the character in nuances a human can’t always reach. In a way, these clothes become a character all by themselves.

This is what led the Sage Collection at IU Bloomington to create the “Art of the Character” exhibition at the Eskenazi Museum of Art and open it on May 6.

The exhibit, a collaborative work between IU Bloomington students, staff and faculty, features 56 costumes that esteemed actress Glenn Close had worn while portraying 11 characters in 14 different productions. Close, an 8-time Academy Award-nominated actress and 3-time winner at both the Tonys and Emmys, had donated her costumes in 2017 from movies such as “101 Dalmations,” “Dangerous Liaisons,” “Fatal Attraction” and even “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Recollection from Fabric

On Thursday, Close brought the exhibit full circle with her return to IU Bloomington, where she not only admired her costumes as pieces of art and collections of entertainment history, but also by the memories they brought.

“I’m flooded with memories,” Close said. “Each of them has a story. The movie has a story, the costume has a story, because these are the costumes I spent hours in the fitting room.”

Close was also impressed at the presentation of her costumes, citing the wigs on the mannequins in particular and referencing “some people say it’s all about hair.”

The clothes had to be kept at the proper temperature, free from moths and carefully stored. Close hopes that the living exhibit will serve as a resource for years to come for up-and-coming costume designers. She hopes, even if it’s “a baggy T-shirt and jeans,” there will be a representation of it at IU.

Glenn Close visits the Art of Character exhibit at IU Bloomington on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. (Photo by Chris Meyer/Indiana University)

Reunion with the Muse

Most of her costumes were made at the famed Broadway costume shop Barbara Matera Ltd. during the 1990s in New York. It doesn’t exist anymore. In fact, one of the designers of Close’s costumes on the set of “101 Dalmations” is IU’s Heather Milam, director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance and head of the MFA Costume Technology program.

She was 21 years old.

“[Close] walked through in her wig, with her long cigarette holder and the high boots, and went and thanked every single person throughout the shop,” Milam said, recalling her work on the sequel film that came out a few years later. “Being a mid-20s young person, it was inspiring to know that people cared, that famous people cared about what I did.”

Close still cared. She cared about every single moment that was taken to hand-bead her clothes. She cared about all the hours they spent together in the dressing room putting the costume on and altering it to perfection. She cared about all the beauty in the details, and she wants others to care, too.

“All my costumes are the product of an informed, passionate collaboration,” Close said. “I’d like students and visitors to understand the connection between character and costume. I’d like them to be amazed by the artistry. And I’d like them to gain an insight into the creative process, which is basically the thing that keeps any artist’s soul alive: the actual process.”

Even if nobody else expresses it, Close wants to make it known how appreciative she is to the artists behind her costumes, especially those who had to use older techniques due to technology restraints.

“First of all, I’m filled with such gratitude for the designers and for all the people, the hours that went into creating these costumes,” Close said. “So what you have here are pieces that — to recreate them is probably pretty impossible. … So the hours and the inspiration and the collaboration that this represents is so moving to me because it’s–it’s the essence of my career.”

Close’s costumes will be on display until November 14, free and open to the public.

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