‘Window displays are a ubiquitous and inescapable part of one's viewing life in the big city,’ says artist Diane Simpson. Her current exhibition ‘BMO Harris Bank Chicago Works: Diane Simpson’, on show at the MCA Chicago, is inspired by the first examples of visual merchandising in the early 20th century. For the four window displays – from her Window Dressing series – Simpson crafted stands, platforms, hangers and other display furniture, as well as clothing and accessories – a bowler hat, a pinafore – using patterns and shapes that evoke the art deco period she references. The exhibition also includes trade manuals from the 1920s and 30s that the artist used to research her sculptures.
Over the past 35 years, architecture, fashion and utilitarian design, and the points at which these practices intersect, have consistently inspired Simpson. Her first work with the Window Dressing displays was created for the Racine Art Museum, Wisconsin, aptly housed within a former department store; she has also previously installed them at storefronts at the NYU Broadway Windows (in 2014). In Chicago, four of her window tableaux appear in the city for the first time. Simpson says she’s less interested in the merchandise itself than the formal aspects of a window display and the backdrops that have been used throughout different periods in history. So what makes for a good window display? ‘I view a successful window display as one where the window dresser has succeeded in unifying the background of the display and the merchandise. This is always an important consideration in the way I display my sculpture. I strive for a real correlation between the sculpture and its environment.’
Simpson has been an integral part of the arts community in the Chicago area over the last three decades and has exhibited across many of its arts venues; but, she says, ‘The opportunity to show a major segment of my work at the MCA is sort of a pinnacle for me.’