“Maidenform to Modernism: The Bissett Collection,” an exhibition now at the Allen Memorial Art Museum, unites for the first time since 1968 two dozen modernist works gifted by two of the museum’s most important donors, Enid (1893-1965) and Joseph Bissett (1888-1968).
Enid Bissett, a cofounder of the Maidenform brassiere company, and her husband, Joseph, became avid collectors of contemporary art, amassing an impressive array of works by the mid-20th century.
Their donations to the AMAM during the 1950s and 60s added works by Marc Chagall, Jean Dubuffet, Henri Matisse, Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso, and other prominent modernists to the museum collection.
Curated by Andria Derstine, the AMAM’s John G.W. Cowles Director, “Maidenform to Modernism,” which runs through May 27, celebrates the couple’s belief in the power of art to further education in the academic setting of Oberlin College.
Joseph Bissett had been a vaudeville performer in the early years of the 20th century, and he and Enid had performed together as ballroom dancers and entertainers. In 1922, in New York City, Enid Bissett and seamstress Ida Rosenthal cofounded what became the Maidenform brassiere company.
In the 1930s, the Bissetts began collecting art, much of it purchased through Pierre Matisse, an art dealer and the son of artist Henri Matisse. The Bissetts initially considered donating their collection to the Museum of Modern Art, but the institution already had formidable holdings in this area. The couple’s nephew, J. R. Judson — who graduated from Oberlin College in 1948 — advised the Bissetts instead to make their donation to the AMAM.
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