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Geoffery Beene exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum captures 'a line moving through space'

By Sativa Peterson
Published: Friday, April 28, 2023 - 11:43am

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Entrance way into an exhibit featuring Geoffery Beene
Airi Katsuta
"MOVE: The Modern Cut of Geoffrey Beene" at the Phoenix Art Museum.

Modernist  American fashion designer Geoffrey Beene was not terribly invested in keeping up with trends. Instead he innovated and experimented with fabrics and the construction of his garments — executing his designs like a virtuoso technician. Beene also prioritized ease of movement and comfort in his designs.

All of this is the subject of a current exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum, "MOVE: The Modern Cut of Geoffrey Beene," about the legendary New York designer. There are personal photographs, contact sheets, correspondence and press kits — a full archive of items from Mr. Beene’s offices. And there are jumpsuits, boleros, evening dresses and menswear inspired pieces including custom made items collected over 30 years by one long-standing client — Patsy Tarr. 

Tarr donated 350 Geoffrey Beene objects to the museum in 2019. This incredible, fully interchangeable capsule wardrobe is the centerpiece of the museum’s exhibit and dates from the late 1980s through the early 2000s. 

The Show spoke with Helen Jean, the Jacquie Dorrance Curator of Fashion Design for the Phoenix Art Museum, about Beene’s relationship with Tarr. 

Geoffery Beene
Phoenix Art Museum
Geoffery Beene

“There was a lot of conversation in the beginning. That's what's really important is that relationship and that foundation of what the client is looking for and what the designer is inspired to deliver. Patsy shared a really important comment with me. And she said early on in her conversations with Mr. Bean, I told him, 'I want to look like a line moving through space.' And he understood what that meant," said Jean.

That sense of movement — looking like a line moving through space — continues throughout the show. 

Beene and Tarr shared a deep appreciation of dance. By the 1990s, Geoffrey Beene began casting dancers, as well as professional models — and his choreographed runway ballets animated how his garments moved. This mobility was possible through craftsmanship and Beene’s incredible fabrications.

“The luxury of these garments in the fabrications. Some of these garments have very complicated and dynamic blends of fabrics and they create in this particular instance that we were just describing, this one is very circus and whimsical and fun. And that's the point. And right next to it is the same dress, the same silhouette, the same cut, but a different set of fabrications," said Jean. "And it is one of the most knockout, chic, sophisticated dresses because it is a gorgeous stone gray and charcoal black. And it is absolutely stunning. And so in Mr. Beene’s hand, these fabrications just sing. They're absolutely gorgeous.” 

A mannequin, within Geoffery Beene
Airi Katsuta
A mannequin, posed in the middle of a dance step, wearing a flowing black dress at the "MOVE: The Modern Cut of Geoffrey Beene" at the Phoenix Art Museum.

Garments were also given a sense of movement through the placement of the seam lines and the use of soft fabrics in evening wear. 

"Some of them are vibrant and colorful, with really playful outscaled florals and cartoonish flora-dora design, and others are in muted earth tones but with layered texture and a few complimentary colors. It's a really unique blending of pattern and scale," Jean said. "What I find really interesting is once you become versed in Beene, it’s obvious when you see a Beene because of the way that he blends colors and, again, fabrics and these layering of different patterns."

The exhibition is on view until July 23, 2023, at the Phoenix Art Museum. 

Geoffrey Beene collection
Phoenix Art Museum
"MOVE: The Modern Cut of Geoffrey Beene" at the Phoenix Art Museum.

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