Aaron Burr’s devotion to the charms of the fair sex is the apparent justification for a new exhibition at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Upper Manhattan, where Burr lived for a few months during his short-lived second marriage at age 77. The show is titled “The Loves of Aaron Burr: Portraits in Corsetry and Binding.”
I did not make that up. I did not even know that “corsetry” was a word. I quote from the New York Times’ notice of the show, verbatim:
- LEATHER AND LACE
Artists are turning antiques into narrative sculpture to boost museum attendance.
“This is a way small culturals can do something powerful,” said Franklin D. Vagnone, executive director of the Historic House Trust of New York City. He is writing a book, “The Anarchist Guide to Historic House Museums” (with the urban design expert Deborah Ryan), recommending contemporary art and other interventions to spice up period rooms.
At the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights, the couture designer and artist Camilla Huey has created sculptural corsets for an exhibition, “The Loves of Aaron Burr: Portraits in Corsetry and Binding,” opening next Friday. (Burr lived in the house briefly, late in life, with his second wife, Eliza Jumel.)
The lace-up garments symbolize that politician’s mother, daughter, wives and mistresses. Ms. Huey stacked vintage books and handwritten correspondence nearby to evoke the women’s voluminous scholarly writings. (On May 18, during an “immersive theater experience,” actors playing Burr and his circle will greet visitors in the rooms full of glossy furniture.)
Ms. Huey represented one of Burr’s mistresses, Leonora Sansay, who wrote accounts of Haitian slave uprisings, as a leather corset stuffed with papers. Burr’s daughter, Theodosia Burr Alston, who vanished in a mysterious schooner wreck in 1813 along with trunks full of family manuscripts, is portrayed as a cascade of unfinished letters.
Without such imaginative additions to traditional décor, museums risk losing audiences. “If you just sit in these time capsules,” said Carol Ward, the Morris-Jumel’s interim executive director, “you’re going to get stuck there.”
Not that Burr would object to the study of ladies’ personal items. By all accounts he admired them . . . frequently. Still, it seems a stretch.