The new black
A University of Tulsa exhibit breathes artistic life into some vintage little black dresses.
You know how it is when you’re the general manager of the Tulsa Ballet for a few years. A gala here, a fund-raiser there, another dinner event here, one more cocktail party there — before you know it, you own a closet full of little black dresses.
Connie Cronley ended up with a closet full of fashion’s favorite staple, all from the ’70s and ’80s.
When she offered a dozen or so to Maridel Allinder, her friend and primo vintage shopper, Allinder said, “You have a collection here.” Once a third friend, M. Teresa Valero, an applied associate professor of art at The University of Tulsa, was brought in, the idea for an art exhibit was born.
“Little Black Dress: New Takes on a Timeless Classic” runs Aug. 27-Sept. 25 at the Alexandre Hogue Gallery in Phillips Hall on the TU campus, with a special reception at 5 p.m., Sept. 10.
Valero curated the show, assigning one of 12 dresses to female artists in Arizona, Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma. Each specializes in a different medium — photography, painting, textile, sculpture, film, installation, theater or writing. Dresses were named for the mood they inspire, such as “Persian Nights,” “Dress Noir” and “Oh, How I Miss Frank Sinatra.”
Carol Haralson, a former Tulsan and writer from Arizona, penned a poem about a stretchy catsuit style. Shan Goshorn, a local photographer, shot sexy black shoes to go with her dress. Kristy Lewis Andrew, an acrylic artist from Tulsa, was inspired by “Madame X,” a long strapless number with a thigh-high slit in the front. She imagined “a woman who wishes to be the one noticed among many, yet her costume is unable to disguise her vulnerability” when she painted a large rose titled “Distinct Beauty.”
“I looked for artists from different backgrounds because I wanted that mélange of ideas and approaches,” Valero says.
She also recruited pianist Anna Norberg, TU professor of music, to compose a “Suit of Dances” (no, not “suite”) for the project. Norberg’s “The Take-it-Off Tango” and “Not Just Another Rag” will premiere at the exhibit.
Cronley is the author of three books, a columnist for TulsaPeople and executive director of Iron Gate Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry. She wrote an essay for the exhibit’s catalog exploring the appeal and fascination of the LBD: “Who wears a black dress? Widows and witches and nuns. Bad girls, call girls, sirens, glamour girls, movie stars, fashion icons, goth girls, well-dressed ladies, women going to nightclubs and ordinary women who have a special evening. They are the women who are the subject of this artistic project.”
Throughout the exhibit, women are invited to wear a little black dress and be photographed for an evolving mural. Danna Sue Walker, of the Tulsa World, also will be honored at the reception for her longtime support of Tulsa’s nonprofit agencies.
“Women are weavers,” Valero says. “We like to include everyone in our discussions and decisions, especially other women. We trust other women. In this exhibition, we are going to celebrate women’s art, our friends and womanhood.”
Allinder, who moved to Los Angeles and promised to return to Tulsa for the reception, is reluctant to take credit for the concept.
“I was just the recipient of the dresses I had to give back,” she says. “I guess I gave Connie the idea. And once you give Connie an idea ..."