Collection Artwork
Beverly Semmes (born Washington, DC, 1958)
Famous Twins
crushed velvet, cotton
dimensions variable
Gift of Joel and Zoe Dictrow

Installation views

Object Labels

Beverly Semmes presents the glaringly vacant sartorial trappings of presumably female twins. Both partners and competitors, Semmes’s twins are presented in the same colors but in opposite configurations. Two figures, nearly identical: are they the opposite sides of each other, good and evil, or do both lay somewhere in between?

The beyond-human scale of the dresses aggressively towers over viewers, demanding to be acknowledged and examined. The boxy, nearly flat abstracted forms draw attention to the body’s absence and remind us of the weight with which dress informs identity and influences our assumptions about others. Further, each set of stretched-out arms, linked together without end, deny access and suggest a self-contained feminine space. The floating dresses with their earthbound arms connect the transcendent to the terrestrial. Can we exist on two planes, two sides of ourselves or even two sides of the world?

From the exhibition: Other Side:
Art, Object, Self (August 12, 2017 – January 3, 2018)

Beverly Semmes creates textile sculptures, clay and crystal vessels, drawings, collages, prints, performance, photography, and video. In her installations, Semmes often mixes and combines these media, as in 2011’s Feminist Responsibility Project, which featured altered pornographic images, a massive white cloud of fabric, video, and performance.

In the early 1990s Semmes became well known for sculptures that evoke oversized garments, most commonly clothing designed for women. Created out of organza, velvet, tulle, chiffon, lamé, mohair, flannel, and cashmere, Semmes’s sculptures took a common design—the dress—and twisted it into surreal proportions. Hung from the wall and cascading onto the floor, Semmes’s sculptures have conjured an array of interpretations, from what one critic called clothing for “giant children or some obscure yet modernized cult of goddess worship,“ to a more pointed sociocultural critique of how clothing and fashion project and reinforce ideas of femininity and beauty.

From the exhibition: One Work (January 25 – June 1, 2014)

Beverly Semmes is best known for her work with textiles, including monumental dress forms designed on a scale to fill an entire gallery wall. The dresses lay flat against the wall oftentimes spreading across the floor with their oversize sleeves piled in heaps below. The dresses developed from her early video work, which depicted the artist or her friends wearing outlandish outfits of her design such as “hedge hats” and “water coats.” Animating these outfits, the wearer moved about in carefully chosen landscapes that would echo and complement the clothing. Eventually Semmes found the body superfluous to the outfits and eliminated models all together, creating garments too large for any person to wear. Without the body, the dress ceases to adorn, decorate or complement the hairstyles or makeup of the wearer, throwing off the shackles of fashion to become sculptural form.

From the exhibition: About Sculpture (June 26, 2004 – January 2, 2005)

Ongoing Research

Research on our collection is ongoing. If you have resources you’d like to share, please contact Associate Curator Rebecca McNamara.
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