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Museum Ferrets Out the Best of '100% Polyester'

October 19, 1987|BETH ANN KRIER | Times Staff Writer

Polyester--the "miracle" fabric known for being absolutely unnatural, feeling clammy next to the skin, retaining odor, requiring no ironing and even less taste from its wearers--will be celebrated tonight as San Francisco's Museum of Modern Mythology unveils for the press what is believed to be the first-ever exhibit of "historic" polyester shirts.

National Attention

The collection, "100% Polyester: Shirts of Art from the Palette of Science," has attracted national media attention far in advance of its official benefit opening Thursday evening. The fund-raiser's appropriately low-rent admission price, $8 at the door, is roughly the cost of a 100% polyester shirt in its heyday, say organizers.

A purist's show if ever there were one, it has been meticulously edited to contain no blends (synthetics mixed with natural fibers to disguise the imposters). The exhibition also spotlights what many consider the kitschiest designs ever to appear on fabric, among them renditions of Disney characters in such works of art as "Blue Boy" and "Whistler's Mother." The exhibit, which contains "hundreds" of shirts, opens to the public Friday and continues through Dec. 31.

According to museum board member Jack Mingo, the collection of "unnatural fibers, unspeakable patterns" represents "the golden decade of Dacron, roughly 1969 to 1979." He considers the exhibit "a closet chronicle of some of the best and worst impulses of art and design ranging from the merely tasteless to the eye-gougingly garish."

No Corporate Sponsor

Veteran observers of museum openings will note that there is no corporate sponsorship of "100% Polyester."

"They (fiber, fabric or clothing companies) aren't going to sponsor this because it's really tacky. We were advised not to even ask," explains Quendrith Johnson, museum program director. Adds Mingo, "The fact that we aren't treating the subject with any reverence whatsoever doesn't help."

Jeff Errick, a graphic artist who owns the vast majority of the shirts in the show and is known for his "good taste in bad art," complains that the shirts are getting harder to find because they're not being made anymore.

"Most of them I found at thrift stores," says Errick, who with two friends founded the museum in 1982. When I first started looking, I could go into a thrift store and find 10 or 20 good ones at a time. Now I'm lucky if I find two. I still see a few people in San Francisco wearing them. They're either old men or art students."

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