The Metropolitan Museum of Art reopens August 29, but for months its collections have been tantalizingly out of reach. Curator’s Cut, The Met’s new video series for patrons at home, recently featured Glenn Petersen, a ‘91 graduate of FIT’s MA program now called Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice.
“Today I thought it would be nice to take a little closer look at what some might call ‘messing with this iconic object,’” says Petersen, a conservator in The Met’s Costume Institute. The object in question is Degas’s The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer, a beloved bronze sculpture with a cotton skirt.
The replacement of the fabric in 2018 required the sort of meticulous attention to detail for which Met conservators are legendary. Petersen traveled to Washington, DC, to study the wax figure, now held by the Smithsonian, from which The Met’s bronze was cast.
He also painstakingly reviewed Degas’s oeuvre and discovered a few idiosyncrasies: In his paintings, the artist depicted dancers in practice rooms wearing colored ribbons, which is inaccurate. He also omitted the knee-length bloomers in which most dancers rehearsed.
But more to the point, Petersen says: “There is a real disparity between the appearance of the sculpture and the pictorial works of dancers that are so central to Degas’s artistic output.”
In an earlier video, Petersen can be seen making the replacement skirt. It’s not tulle, as most dancer’s skirts are; it’s cotton, and Petersen painted it a color that would look harmonious with the dark hues of the bronze. It’s also longer than the previous skirt, which was itself a replacement.
“Fashion will change, and in 20 years, someone will look at the skirt and say, ‘That’s hideous,’” he says with a laugh.
The sculpture will be on view in The Met’s show, Making the Met, 1870-2020 (opening August 29), which features some of the museum’s most adored pieces.