Michelle Satterlee, curator of Dressed to Match
Some say art mimics life. Or is it the other way around? Either way, Michelle Satterlee is killin’ it. The curator and marketing maven at Sacramento’s Elliott Fouts Gallery first bought a dress to match a painting at the opening of Micah Crandall-Bear’s show four years ago. Since then, #dressedtomatch has grown a following on Instagram, Satterlee is Sacramento-famous for her wardrobe at artsy events, and submissions are rolling in on her Dressed to Match blog. The 29-year-old wears Missoni to SFMOMA and Jimmy Choos to the Crocker. Satterlee’s latest goal is to match the many new murals around town, but in between shopping and art-spotting, she sat down in the gallery to talk about how art mimics life.
How did you get involved in the fine art world?
I’ve been working at the gallery [Elliott Fouts] since 2004. When I started in high school it was a clerical job, then I went to UC Davis, got my art history degree, and when I came back I started working full time. Elliott is my stepdad, my dad is a commercial photographer here in Sacramento, and my mom is a hairdresser, which is an art form in itself, so art has always been encouraged in my family. I wanted to study something that I loved at Davis. I took a couple of economics and accounting classes and it was very clear from the start that that was not a direction I wanted to go in, nor was I good at it.
Favorite destination for art?
Anywhere in Europe you’re going to find things that are iconic. Like David. You can’t move him. There’s something so gratifying about seeing a piece that you’ve studied in person. It’s like it’s shimmering!
Do you think Sacramento has a certain artistic brand?
Yes, I think it’s rooted in our landscape. Look at the two artists that have had the biggest impact on our arts scene, Wayne Thiebaud and Greg Kondos, and you see our geography in Northern California. Here at the gallery, I can see how his influence has pervaded everyone else’s work. People want to create a thumbprint for our area. With Thiebaud, it’s amazing to go somewhere else in the country and see these priceless pieces knowing that he painted them right here, either in his Land Park studio or in Midtown.
What inspired you to start dressing to match art?
It was a fluke. I was looking very last-minute for a dress for an opening four years ago. I saw a dress almost identical to a piece we had in the Micah Crandall-Bear show and I had to get it. People kept asking, “Did you know that you match that?” Um, yes. It was such a fun, kitschy, silly thing to do, but it really got people excited. The next year, people were expecting me to do it again. By the third year, people were looking forward to it.
How do you find these dresses that match so well?
For me, it’s the challenge of finding the needle in a haystack. When I’m shopping online, I either look specifically for a piece I want to match or with my art history knowledge, if I see something reminiscent of an art style, I can find a piece to match it to.
Best stores for finding matches?
Anthropologie definitely has unique items, and that’s what I’m looking for. The art is so innovative or specific that you’re normally not going to find a match unless it’s high-end.
Do you consider yourself a fashionista?
Absolutely not. Through this, I’ve learned what styles fit my body type. When I find something, I’m not trying it on for a good fit. It it works, it works; if it doesn’t, you make it work. I’m very motivated by challenges, and this is the ultimate passion project that challenges me. It involves something I’m crazy about, art, and I get to bring other people into that.
By putting fine art on Instagram you’re also making it more accessible. Is that the point?
A lot of galleries, like SFMOMA and the Hirshhorn in D.C., have done a really good job of encouraging young people to come in and do whatever weird poses they want with the art. All of the images we’re bombarded with almost make these paintings commonplace. We’re so used to seeing them, but we have to remind ourselves what the interaction would’ve been like for people who were contemporaries of the painting. They wouldn’t have been posing with them. They would have been in awe and aghast. It’s funny to see people now engaging with the work in such a different way … like selfies.
What’s your dream art to match?
I would love to go to New York City just to match. I’ve been there, but not under the umbrella of Dressed to Match. I’m also on a mission to match all the new murals we got in Sacramento.