The meticulously organized, modest closet in which Sara Berman (1920–2004)—an immigrant who traveled from Belarus to Palestine to New York—kept her all-white apparel and accessories both contained her life and revealed it. Inspired by the beauty and meaning of Berman's closet, the artists Maira and Alex Kalman (who are also Berman's daughter and grandson) have recreated the closet and its contents as an art installation.
This exhibition represents Berman's life from 1982 to 2004, when she lived by herself in a small apartment in Greenwich Village. In her closet Berman lovingly organized her shoes, clothes, linens, beauty products, luggage, and other necessities. Although the clothing is of various tints—including cream, ivory, and ecru—it gives the impression of being all white.
With its neatly arranged stacks of starched and precisely folded clothing, the closet is presented as a small period room in dialogue with The Met's recently installed Worsham-Rockefeller Dressing Room from 1882, which features clothing from the 1880s of the type that Arabella Worsham, a wealthy art patroness, might have worn. Despite vast differences of scale and ornament, and the separation of 100 years, the two rooms show there were similarities between the life stories of Berman and Worsham (c. 1850–1924). Both began as women of limited means who, by their own ingenuity, created new lives for themselves in New York.
The exhibition was originally organized and exhibited at Mmuseumm in New York City in 2015.
The exhibition is made possible by the Frank and Eva Buck Foundation.
Maira Kalman (American, born Tel Aviv) and Alex Kalman (American, born New York). Items from Sara Berman's Closet, 2015. Textiles, leather, paper, glass, metal, plastic. Collection of the artists. Photo by Katherine Finkelstein