Maira Kalman and Alex Kalman discuss the installation of the exhibition Sarah Berman's Closet, on view at The Met Fifth Avenue from March 6 through September 5, 2017.
The meticulously organized, modest closet in which Sara Berman (1920–2004)—an immigrant who traveled from Belarus to Palestine to New York—kept her all-white apparel and accessories both contained her life and revealed it. Inspired by the beauty and meaning of Berman's closet, the artists Maira and Alex Kalman (who are also Berman's daughter and grandson) have recreated the closet and its contents as an art installation.
Maira Kalman: When my mother got divorced, after 38 years of marriage, she left a well-to-do, upper-middle-class home with many rooms and lots of possessions, and moved into a modest studio apartment in Greenwich Village—and was never happier.
Alex Kalman: This was the first time that she really had her own space and the ability to define her own identity. She decided that she would only wear white and she would keep her things with militaristic precision.
Maira Kalman: When she died in 2004, my immediate instinct was, we have to preserve her closet.
Alex Kalman: In our eyes this was actually an incredible piece of art. The way she kept her closet came from an extreme sense of care and a great love of things and that nothing should be taken for granted.
Maira Kalman: She had to make the simplicity meaningful. The closet has her blouses and pants and underwear and bras and t-shirts and shoes, and it also has the things that she used a lot: her cookie plunger, her potato grater for making latkes, her recipe box, the little notebook where she made the patterns for sweaters for my dog, Pete. Important things.
In the Metropolitan Museum, usually we see things that are of great wealth.
Alex Kalman: Among the period rooms, the parallel of Sara's closet to Arabella Worsham's closet is quite profound. In 1882 Arabella Worsham received a sense of freedom and independence by entering in a state of wealth. For Sara Berman exactly 100 years later, in 1982, it's almost the exact inverse of that narrative that gives her a sense of freedom and independence.
Maira Kalman: My mother's reaction, if she knew that this was happening would be, "I always knew that you were completely crazy, but now I'm really sure."
Alex Kalman: She would have though it was ridiculous. But if you put it in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, suddenly you are saying to people, "There's something here that's meaningful."
Maira Kalman: I hope that people take away a sense of the tenderness of creating your own life, and that it's inspiring—that it gives you a sense of optimism that, yes, you can put your closet in order, and maybe there's hope for putting your life in order, some of the time.
Directors: Kate Farrell, Sarah Cowan
Producer: Kate Farrell
Editor: Sarah Cowan
Camera: Sarah Cowan, Dia Felix, Stephanie Wuertz
Interviewer: Christopher Noey
Interview Lighting: Ned Hallick
Production Coordinator: Lisa Rifkind
Production Assistant: Kaelan Burkett
Original Music: Austin Fisher
© 2017 The Metropolitan Museum of Art