When “socialite scammer” Anna Delvey went to trial earlier this year, a lot of ink was spilled on what she wore in court, from a basic beige H&M sweater and a lacy First Communion-style dress to a sleek Miu Miu gown. One Instagram account, @annadelveycourtlooks, even chronicled her clothes, which were, after all, selected by a celebrity stylist recruited to work pro-bono by her lawyer.
A new London-based installation by American artist Cynthia Talmadge flips the script, asking not what the clothes say about Delvey, but what our “tabloid fascination” with her fashion says about us.
Titled, “Four Courtroom Outfits of Anna Delvey,” Talmadge’s public installation occupies a storefront window in the Piccadilly Circus underground station in London, used for public art installations by her gallery, Soft Opening. Front and center is a dressing screen, the panels of which are decorated with cornflower blue painted ornaments, representing “invented heraldry” that tells the story of Delvey’s rise and fall via symbols. Looking close, you will see items ranging from a Henri Bendel shopping bag to a matchbook from a luxury resort hotel in Morocco (where she infamously spent $65,000 while pretending to be an heiress) to the building of the New York Criminal Court in Manhattan where she was tried.
Cynthia Talmadge, Four Courtroom Outfits of Anna Delvey” (2019). Courtesy the artist and Soft Opening, London.
The real attraction comes from behind the screen however, where a motorized device throws, successively, different Delvey outfits briefly into view before whisking each one out of sight again, one after another. Talmadge considers this spectacle a kind of portrait of the elusive fake heiress: “These courtroom outfits, presented in an infinite loop of ‘hysterical’ indecision, represent the closest we can get to her inner reality,” a press release explains.
Trained at the Rhode Island School of Design and based in New York, Talmadge is known for art that walks a fine line between kitsch and sincerity. In 2018 at 56 Henry, she presented a critically acclaimed set of paintings depicting a New York funeral home (Frank E. Campbell, “funeral home to the stars”) in a semi-ironic Pointillist style, while also transforming the gallery itself into an installation that evoked its interiors. At Halsey McKay, she showed a suite of paintings recreating the opening images of soap operas such as As the World Turns and One Life to Live.
Her interest in the symbolism of the Anna Delvey case makes a lot of sense given her history of finding pathos in the seemingly frivolous. “People are obsessed with the case because it hits so close to home,” Talmadge told the Art Newspaper. “As young women we constantly battle with feelings of fraudulence. Anyone who is hustling in the creative industries can relate to her.”
“Cynthia Talmadge: Four Courtroom Outfits of Anna Delvey” is on view through November 24, 2019 at Soft Opening.
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