Previous installments in this series can be found here.
Haley: So. Fashion and museums! Big topic.
Anna: You and I both had a lot of thoughts about this year’s Met fashion exhibit, Punk: Chaos to Couture. In early May they had a party where everyone came with “punk” inspired fashion. There was a lot of fashion’s elite, a lot of designers, starlets, actresses, models–
Haley: –The Gwyneths.
Anna: The Gywneths
Haley: The Jessicas.
Anna: Neither of us have seen the exhibit in person, though we both watched the livefeed. Actually, I had to cut in and out, because I kept going like this. [Let the records show that Anna facepalms.]
Haley: It was TOO painful. I have so many thoughts. One of the most horrifying moments was when Vivienne Westwood showed up with a picture of Bradley Manning pinned to her dress. It was like, legitimately punk, to hijack this event being held for the one percent, to confront them with, “Oh, here’s a photo of a person that you’re probably detaining illegally because he did something that challenges people in power.” When she started to go on a political diatribe, her mic was cut out and she was pushed out of the way.
Westwood is, at this point, pretty much part of the establishment. She’s earned a really serious level of respect from her peers as a living designer. AND she’s more or less responsible for what we think of as the pseudo-official “punk” look, which I hate saying, but there it is. Yet even someone in her position was not allowed to be political at this event. She was being way more punk in spirit than the Met was by trying to recreate what the CBGB’s bathroom looked like.
Anna: Clothes are such an important part of every sub-culture that I don’t think having a punk exhibition is a bad idea. But I want to ask what they were trying to accomplish with this show. If they were trying to celebrate the pure aesthetics of it, fashion at its most superficial, commodified level, well congratulations. There were a lot of metal studs. But if we want to talk about what punk is as an ideology, as a very flawed ideology, that’s a different exhibit. I mean, to the Met’s credit there were probably way more women and people of colour there than at the front row of a punk show in the 1970s.
Haley: I’m nodding emphatically
Anna: When I was shaking my head at the Met, it wasn’t because I was worried about them tarnishing the so-called purity of punk rock’s legacy. With punk there is so much bullshit already.
Haley: For me, it was never about feeling like this subculture had been co-opted, because its not my subculture to complain about. I always thought like it felt like a weird vanity project for the Met, and of course for Vogue.
But to defend the Met, even though why would you need to defend the Met because they are THE institution to rail against if you’re ever going to pick one, but I did hear curator Harold Koda speak at the Bata Shoe Museum a few years ago. It was genuinely wonderful, because he is so brilliant and such an important figure in fashion. He said something weird about how he envies the museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology, which is where he used to work, because there are some very strange rules at the Met’s Costume Institute. They don’t have a permanent exhibition, so they’re always in the process of building two shows using what they have in the archive or what they can get donated. I feel like that rule is where we get a lot of these weird kind of filler exhibitions that don’t really make a lot of sense. It wouldn’t surprise me if they just happened to have enough clothes to fill 70% of a punk collection and they said, “OK, let’s just fill in the rest with whatever we can find and just do it.” How often do you get something like the McQueen exhibition?
Anna: Which brings us to the idea of fashion in museums AS A WHOLE.