Punk Part Two

This morning I bemoaned a lack of contextualization in the Met’s Punk: Chaos to Couture exhibition. I knew Andrew Bolton had done the research, I just didn’t see enough of it through the display or in text labels in the exhibition.

Well this afternoon I stumbled upon a video pinned to Pinterest by the Met — a gallery walk through with Bolton. Here is a lot of the missing context! It’s a great dialog about why this is important to look at and details on specific pieces.

And I didn’t mention before that I know the Punk exhibition catalog goes into great detail regarding the thesis of the show and the garments in it. I’m bummed more of this couldn’t have been included in the gallery spaces, and that it requires watching supplemental videos or buying an exhibition catalog to find the real meat.

Punk Needs More Meat

Two weekends ago I flew to New York City. The whole trip revolved around seeing Punk: Chaos to Couture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I took in other shows as well while I was there. In two days, I saw six fashion exhibitions. Some were more high brow than others, but they were good overall. Unfortunately, Punk fell short of my initial expectations.

Punk: Chaos to Couture title wall gallery, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

When I first found out the show would be curated by Andrew Bolton, I decided I really wanted to go. He’s created some of the best exhibitions at the Met in my opinion. Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the Eighteenth Century, Anglomania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion, and Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty were all his. With that kind of track record, I wanted to see this show. But then the less than stellar reviews started rolling in.

The reviews had two major problems with Punk: first, it was a show about high fashion appropriating punk, not a punk show, and second, there was a lack of contextualization. The first point is indeed true. Bolton and the Met never set out to make an authentic punk show or mislead people about what they would see. It was always going to be about high fashion co-opting the aesthetics. So if you don’t like high fashion’s blatant use of punk imagery, well, you probably aren’t going to like this show. I personally don’t mind that basic premise.

The second point about contextualization was the one I was skeptical about. I’ve read reviews of Bolton shows before, and so many of them complain of a lack of written contextualization. Well wake up folks, I wanted to say. Contextualization doesn’t always have to come in the form of the written word. It can be done through the exhibition design setting the scene. It can be done by showing period sketches or photographs in a case in the same room as a period garment to demonstrate that garment’s background. Audiences are smarter than you think. Give them a little credit that they can infer connections without everything being spelled out.

However, in this show the contextualization argument may be right. I left the show feeling like I hadn’t learned anything. I had just seen a bunch of cool looking clothes. The question “what was the point?” has been nagging me since I saw it.

Clothes for Heroes gallery, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

The small amount of clothes that were contextualized in the first gallery space was pretty cool, seen in the photo above. Authentic 1970s garments sold in Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McLaren’s shop in London were paired up with contemporary high fashion versions. The “real” stuff was fascinating to see. Their fashiony doppelgängers took on an elevated meaning standing right next to the authentic items. I saw an “Anarchy Mask” T-shirt reputedly worn by Johnny Rotten and the “God Save the Queen” T-shirt.

D.I.Y.: Bricolage gallery, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

But then things broke down to purely superficial aesthetic details in the following four gallery spaces. Not only were there a lack of references about how pieces were inspired by punk — other than they fit some vague approximation of what punk looked like and there was very loud music playing to hard-to-watch videos of punk imagery — but there were few details about the garments themselves. No descriptive labels for individual garments, no pictures of the clothes on the runway or worn in everyday life. The exhibition design left me wanting more. I wanted to know what it was like to sew Gareth Pugh ruffled gowns out of garbage bags (seen in the photo above on the center platform). There was no video of the infamous graffitied McQueen dress from spring/summer 1999 getting spray painted live on the runway by robotic machines. No insight into the minds of any of the designers when they were conceiving of these clothes.

430 King's Road Period Room, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

My first walk through of the exhibition was a treat however. My friend Sarah Scaturro, head conservator in the Costume Institute, took me through. She pointed out things I would have never noticed on my own — every element in the replicated Seditionaries shop is archival (seen in the photo above), the single garment owned by the Met in a particular gallery was standing on the only pedestal that didn’t house a speaker, a T-shirt that said “58% DON’T WANT PERSHING” was the real punk deal. That was very exciting getting an individual tour. So I have to say a big thank you to Sarah for taking time out of her day to walk through it with me.

D.I.Y.: Graffiti & Agitprop gallery, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

The garments in Punk were really cool, and they were a treat to see, especially that graffitied McQueen dress (seen above at left) — I had a sacred moment when I saw it in person. The show was a visual treat and mounted very well. But I felt the exhibition could have taught me more, could have pushed beyond the superficial aesthetics. It lacked the heart and soul Bolton’s other shows are known to have. I wanted something a little more meaty, but I didn’t get it.

Exhibition File – Punk: Chaos to Couture

Punk: Chaos to Couture graphic, from Metropolitan Museum of Art

It is the time of year that fashion historians wait for with anticipation — the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute fashion exhibition. This year’s theme is Punk: Chaos to Couture. Curated by Andrew Bolton, the exhibition design is sure to thrill with sensory overload.

According to the Met’s website, Punk “will examine punk’s impact on high fashion from the movement’s birth in the early 1970s through its continuing influence today. Featuring approximately one hundred designs for men and women, the exhibition will include original punk garments and recent, directional fashion to illustrate how haute couture and ready-to-wear borrow punk’s visual symbols.”

The major themes in the show include New York and London, Clothes for Heroes, Hardware, Bricolage, Graffiti and Agitprop, and Destroy. It’ll look at the DIY aesthetic and the ways the original punk movement inspire designers working today.

I’m actually going to New York this weekend specifically to see the show. I saw Bolton’s AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion exhibition in 2006, and it was over the top. I’m still kicking myself for not finding a way to New York to see his famed Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty show — the 5th most attended exhibition at the Met.

The show opens to the public today and runs until August 14. Some of the reviews are out:

Robin Givhan says that “Even If Punk Can’t Shock, Fashion Still Can.”
Suzy Menkes thinks the exhibition is “Punk Without the Down and Dirty.”
Sasha Frere Jones decries the show as “The Day That Punk Died Again.”

I’m trying to reserve judgement, even though these reviews do not say the most flattering things about Punk. This is not the first time Bolton has been accused of not contextualizing the fashion he exhibits. His shows are not for fashion historian purists. I’ll let you know what I think after this weekend.

Address: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 215 Centre Street, New York, New York
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 9:30-5:30, Friday-Saturday 9:30-9, Sunday 9:30-5:30
Recommended Admission: adults $25, seniors $17, students $12, members and children under 12 free
Website: www.metmuseum.org/Exhibitions/listings/2013/PUNK?utm_source=homepage&utm_medium=banner&utm_campaign=punk

Friday File – Fashion Week

gown by Oscar de la Renta fall/winter 2013, photo by NOWFASHION, from SHOWstudio

New York Fashion Week is finally over and my twitter feed is relieved. Of course we still have London, Milan, and Paris to go, but I find that the reports and tweets from the international fashion weeks aren’t quite so overwhelming.

A friend posted this piece on feminism and fashion week and it’s spot on:

Aesthetics aren’t the enemy of feminism; social codes that require women to meet certain aesthetic principles, and to be constantly putting in time, effort and money in the service of femininity, are the enemy. Fight the system, not the people who do their best to operate in it, or, God forbid, take a little pleasure where they can find it. Gendered fashion requirements are bad. Enjoying the self-expression and aesthetic appeal of clothing? Girl, go ahead and enjoy your new shoes.

Amen! Man, I just want to quote the whole thing.

I’ve also been searching for flights to New York this summer in order to see Punk: Chaos to Couture at the Met. On Monday, curator Andrew Bolton and others involved in the exhibition (you bet Anna Wintour was there) hosted a media preview that was covered by the New York Times, Vogue, and Fashionista. Fashionista has a really good slide show of musicians in their punk attire next to the high-end designer looks they inspired. If you only check out one of those links, take a look at that.

I was mesmerized by this 1922 footage of actresses on film in color striking poses. It’s kind of amazing. You have to see it for yourself.

This hairstylist turned archaeologist has spent more than 10 years trying to figure out how ancient Greeks and Romans styled their hair. Her theory based on experiential research is gaining a following among scholars who study ancient times.

One of my favorite fashion writers, Raquel Laneri, compiled a slideshow of fashion shoots inspired by fine art paintings. I think my favorite was the shot by Joel-Peter Witkin for The New York Times in 2006 made to look like Edward Hopper’s The Automat.

My mom will be in town this weekend, I am hoping to see Picasso and Chicago at the Art Institute of Chicago. This weekend is just a members’ preview (another good benefit to becoming a member of a museum), but it opens to the general audience on Wednesday. I’m excited about this new take on Picasso. Have a great weekend!

Punk at the Met

Sid Vicious in 1977, photo by Dennis Morris | A look from Chanel in 2011, photo by David Sims, both from Women's Wear Daily courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art

Just before I went to bed last night, I checked my email and found some big news — Women’s Wear Daily is reporting that the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s next fashion exhibition will be “Punk: Chaos to Couture.”

This show will open May 9 and close August 11 and is expected to showcase authentic punk garments with designer ensembles influenced by the punk movement. Based on the interview WWD did with Andrew Bolton, it sounds like he is the head curator of the exhibition.

I am really pumped up about this show. I think the Met could really put together an interesting and layered show about fashion, music, politics, and aesthetics. Of course it is bound to have an over-the-top exhibition design — if indeed this is a Bolton exhibition — but I think it could have the potential to explore nuance in the movement with clever juxtaposition.

I’ll definitely have to find my way to New York next summer.

To learn more, including quotes straight from Bolton, read last night’s breaking news article from WWD.