People will get dressed up to go to anything related to Taylor Swift, even a museum exhibit. At a preview of the Arlington Museum of Art’s current show dedicated to the pop superstar, attendees treated a press event like a concert: one was decked out in a pink sequined suit, another in an Eras tour shirt, a third in a “F— the Patriarchy” (which Swifties know as lyrics more so than a political mantra) shirt. Guests oohed and aahed over one another’s sequins and feathers, posing with glammed-up mannequins amid a soundtrack of Swift songs. True Swifties are always on hand to support their queen in any way possible, even if it’s just to look at clothes that were once on her body.
In the midst of the international tour with ticket sales so botched they prompted a Senate committee hearing, a rereleased album coming this summer, and a quickie relationship with a controversial fellow pop star, Swift somehow found the time to serve as the centerpiece of the Texas art museum’s “Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour Collection.” The exhibit, which runs through September 24, features the singer’s outfits and accessories from photo shoots and tours, professionally shot album-cover images, music video stills, and concert snapshots.
Why Texas? The collection isn’t on display in her adopted city of Los Angeles (“But don’t forget about the night out in L.A.”); or in Nashville, where she really began her career (“Green was the color of the grass where I used to read in Centennial Park”); or in her birth state of Pennsylvania (“But I, I was high in the sky / With Pennsylvania under me”). To be fair, there’s a similar exhibit running concurrently in New York. But still, Swift—or someone on her fearsomely regarded team—chose Texas. Even the museum’s higher-ups aren’t quite sure why.
“Her team reached out to us and said, ‘Would you be interested, as the only museum in Arlington?’ recounts creative director Amy J. Schultz. “And we said, ‘Well, of course we would.’ And here we are.” There are at least two Arlington-Swift connections, Schultz says. The designer of Swift’s iconic sequined marching band outfit from the Fearless tour is Tommy Keenum, an alum of the University of Texas at Arlington. And when a younger Swift was promoting her debut album in 2007 through a radio contest for a free acoustic concert, Arlington High School was the winner. Those don’t seem quite big enough to inspire a museum exhibit years later, but on preview day, the Swifties on site weren’t asking questions.
When grinning adult fans and squealing tweens with their parents enter the space, they’ll find the works broken down into four of Swift’s album “eras”: Midnights, Folklore, Red (Taylor’s Version), and Fearless (Taylor’s Version). (Notably, these are albums Swift owns the rights to.) The physical setup, which takes over the entire first floor of the building, is a small one in comparison to the vastness of Swift’s career; it’d be impossible to showcase everything, at least until the inevitable Taylor Swift’s Big, Bejeweled Reputation Me!seum (Taylor’s Version).
The exhibit kicks off with a painted mural of stenciled butterflies forming the shape of a larger butterfly, meant for selfies, in the museum’s foyer. Also on proud display are—I hate to say it—all the ways Arlington has sucked up to Swift for the major tourism bump she brings with her: Swift’s copy of her key to the city, Mayor Jim Ross’s declaration of Taylor Swift Weekend during her three-night residency at AT&T Stadium, and the street sign renaming the road leading to the venue “Taylor Swift Way.”
Once guests have taken their selfies and moved into the exhibit proper, they’ll find a set dedicated to each of the four featured albums. The roped-off Midnights section is the largest. It’s decorated like the seventies-style music video for “Anti-Hero,” with a wood-paneled backdrop, outfits from the album’s photo shoot with corresponding photos—which were taken by Austin-based photographer Beth Garrabrant, who also shot Folklore—and a living room setup with a sofa, coffee table, and bar cart. The area is full of Easter eggs—Taylor Swift’s love language—referencing song titles and lyrics. The cheeky hints were thought up by director of exhibitions and Swiftie Kendall Quirk. We won’t spoil them all, but superfans should keep their eyes peeled for, among others, a calendar set open to a special date and a digital lock set to a special time.
The other three album displays are less elaborate, but they still deliver some Swiftie fun. There are archival outfits, selected by Swift’s team, from her tours and performances, including a varsity jacket with a black and white striped shirt and red pants from the Red tour, the sequined purple dress from the Fearless tour, and the plaid shirtdress Swift wore during the Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions documentary. These are accompanied by concert and recording-session photos and music video stills; the Fearless (Taylor’s Version) set also features glittery butterflies. Despite the thoroughness with Swift’s career, there are no mentions of her personal life. Recent ex-boyfriend Joe Alwyn isn’t even acknowledged in the section devoted to Folklore, for which he cowrote two songs.
As someone who has been to three Eras shows and counting, it was nice to take my time to admire the outfit details from previous tours while mouthing the words to Swift’s songs playing over the speakers. The exhibit serves as a welcome counterpart to Swift’s actual tour (especially if you couldn’t snag tickets). For those who know nothing about her (parents, too-cool friends, begrudging partners accompanying their Swiftie girlfriends), it’s a thorough introduction to Swift as a performer.
Running concurrently with the Swift exhibit at the museum are two shows centered on country music. There’s “Girl in a Country Song,” featuring photographer Raeanne Rubenstein’s portraits of famous country singers, and “Hometown Harmonies,” a collection of objects and outfits from Arlington-born artists. On the rooftop, there’s also an exhibition of wall sculptor Toni Martin’s Butterfly Kisses works; the Swift reference is obvious. As Quirk explains, the three collections are meant to show what “women can do to change the industry.”
By attending the exhibit, we’re growing the coffers of the Swift corporation. She is a die-hard capitalist: How many versions of a single album can she sell? How many concerts can a single person go to? But, hey, that works out in the museum’s favor. The Eras exhibit’s opening weekend broke the institution’s attendance records and continues to bring in crowds of people who might not have previously trekked to town.
The exhibit is a nice homage to Swift’s accomplishments. And while nothing in it will be new to true Swifties, it’s nice to have nice things sometimes. Those songs are damn good, and I would wear almost every single outfit from every single era.