Harper’s Notes

The Harper Review’s weekly newsletter: punk fashion, eccentric collectors, ancient heresies, and more.

The editors

January 2, 2023

Remembering Vivienne Westwood: Legendary British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood passed away last Thursday at age 81. Westwood, whose designs incorporated classic tailoring, romantic flourishes, references to royalty and art, and even controversial political messages, was pivotal in defining punk style and bringing it into the mainstream. In 1971, she opened a shop in London with her boyfriend selling fashions inspired by the Teddy Boy subculture of the 1950s. Eventually, she would begin designing her own independent collections and gain international fame in the world of high fashion. The so-called godmother of punk will be remembered for her signature corsets, platform shoes, and mini-crinis (skirts inspired by the Victorian crinoline) as much as for her political stances. In her 2014 memoir, she wrote, “I did not see myself as a fashion designer but as someone who wished to confront the rotten status quo through the way I dressed and dressed others.”

The collectress: Great art may be achieved by channeling impersonal truth and beauty, but the channelers are doubtlessly the most individual of us: not only artists, but collectors. Think of Alfred C. Barnes, Claribel and Etta Cone, and Gertrude Stein, whose private collections changed the course of modern art history and merit permanent exhibitions and museums of their own. A new book from Princeton University Press documents the life of one of these tastemakers, Isabella Stewart Gardner. The collector, whose eccentricities caused scandal in late nineteenth-century Boston, hobnobbed with now-canonized artists and intellectuals such as John Singer Sargent and Henry James. When her and her husband’s art collection outstripped their home, she commissioned a Venetian Renaissance palace, now known as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, to house the works. Isabella Stewart Gardner: A Life by Nathaniel Silver and Diana Seave Greenwald, curators at the the museum, elucidates the life of this complex woman.

Student-led symposium: Monochrome Multitudes, the current exhibit at the Smart Museum of Art, closes this Sunday. But the fun isn’t over yet. Two final events, both student-led, will punctuate the end of the exhibit. On Thursday, seven University of Chicago students—a mix of graduate students and undergraduates—will present independent research projects on monochrome art and its place in global art, across media. The student symposium will begin at the Cochrane-Woods Art Center at 5 p.m. before moving to the Logan Center at 6:30. There, after presentations conclude, a student orchestra will perform Yves Klein’s Monotone Silence Symphony, which the composer’s website describes as a “‘continuous high-pitched’ sound that suddenly gives way to total silence.”

Ancient heresies and why they matter today: We may assume that Church controversies of the past have no bearing on our present understanding of theology, but Fr. Peter Bernardi, SJ, seeks to challenge that notion. The scholar-in-residence at the Lumen Christi Institute in Chicago studies modern Christian thought, soteriology, and Christology, as well as specializing in the work of theologians such as John Henry Newman. As a lead-in to his upcoming weekly non-credit course at Lumen Christi, which will cover heresies like donatism, Pelagianism, and more, Fr. Bernardi will give a lecture on January 9th from 1 to 2 p.m. in Calvert House about the present applicability of ancient heresies. Lunch will be provided.