Gallery 280

In March 2013, when the newly selected Pope Francis I rejected the traditional red slippers of his office in favor of street shoes; it was more than a fashion statement. It was a display of humility, his footwear reflecting austerity and an “on the ground” connectedness with his flock.

From Catholic vestments to Taoist and Buddhist robes, SACRED|GARMENTS reflects how humans have long endowed garments and objects with spiritual and sacred power, transforming the wearer. Inside or outside a formal religious context, traditional talismanic objects are imbued with power. A West African hunter’s shirt reflects his power while ensuring success in the hunt. Gope boards from New Guinea deflect worldly threats through intimidating images. A felt suit gives a European artist shamanistic status. Similar spiritual associations are also made in contemporary contexts. With its messages in tiny envelopes, Erica Spitzer Rasmussen’s Coat of Invocation is meant to facilitate the healing of a relative fighting cancer. Marcus Young’s flowing blue robe, which he wore while slowly and silently striding through the MIA in performance-art pieces during 2011, set him apart from other visitors, suggesting an otherworldly connection.

— Jennifer Komar Olivarez, associate curator of Decorative Arts, Textiles, and Sculpture