Mannerism and Modernism: The Kasper Collection of Drawings and Photographs is on view at The Morgan Library & Museum (225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street, in New York City) now through May 1. The collection of over one hundred drawings and photographs, exceptional for its distinctive character and superb quality, has been assembled by long-time Member and past CFDA President Herbert Kasper—known simply as Kasper.
The unusual, tripartite nature of the holdings is a testament to both Kasper’s personal taste and his desire to build a truly unique collection. It is focused in three areas: sixteenth-century old master drawings from the Mannerist period, modern and contemporary drawings, and photography.
Most of the great Mannerist draftsmen are represented, including Perino del Vaga, Polidoro da Caravaggio, Giorgio Vasari, and Hendrick Goltzius. Equally impressive is the selection of modern and contemporary drawings, featuring works by Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris, Henri Matisse, Jean Dubuffet, Richard Serra, Ed Ruscha, and others. Photographs constitute the most diverse portion of Kasper’s collection, with excellent prints by major historical figures, in addition to numerous works by emerging artists. The photographs span the early twentieth century to the present, chronicling the evolution of the medium through works by Constantin Brancusi, Man Ray, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jenny Holzer, and many more.
Although Kasper acknowledges that his collection is a bit eclectic, he says that his judgment of a work is based on its superiority, not necessarily on the name of the artist behind it. “Quality has always been very important to me,” Kasper said. “That doesn’t mean that the works I collect are the most well-known by a particular artist, but they have to have a sense of being something that’s original and important.”
Kasper studied English at New York University and then went on to study fashion design at Parsons School of Design in New York. He then spent two years in Paris perfecting his skills; he studied at l’École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, and worked for the couture houses of Jacques Fath, Christian Dior and Marcel Rochas. Returning to the U.S., he worked for the milliner Mr. Fred, where his reputation grew.
Kasper made his name as a designer by working predominantly for one company, Joan Leslie in New York, whom he joined in 1963. Kasper’s forte was dresses, but to adapt to the demands of the market in the early 1970s he opened a sportswear division for Joan Leslie, J.L. Sport. In 1980 he became vice president of the company as well as designer, creating high fashion designs.
He has always been respected as a craftsman and a designer who honors all levels of production involved in creating fashion, from design to manufacture. During his career, he had the talent and ability to create clothes that look exquisite and expensive. Kasper was recognized with numerous awards, including the Coty American Fashion Critics award in 1955, 1970 and 1976. In addtion, Kasper is also placed in the Hall of Fame.
Guided tours of the exhibition Mannerism and Modernism: The Kasper Collection of Drawings and Photographs are offered Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2 p.m. beginning February 22. For more information, please call (212) 685-0008, ext. 561