Met Costume Institute Exhibition 2019
The Met Museum pulls out all the stops in its quest for camp! Join New York Design Agenda and see inside this year’s Met Costume Institute exhibition and gala with head curator Andrew Bolton and acclaimed theatrical designer Jan Versweyveld.
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Inspired by Versweyveld’s frequent use of text in his work, the exhibition was loosely structured around the etymological origins of camp – as a verb, adjective, and noun, says Bolton. Versweyveld began his design process as he would with a new play.
“I see Andrew as kind of a director, who’s writing the story at the same time, which is not always easy, and I’m the one who has to relate to it and mold it in a design that will bring out the best in what he’s intending to show,” says Versweyveld. “I felt really at home. I could relate to Andrew, the Met, and the collaborators as I relate to people in the theater. It’s a lot of departments, a lot of things changing, and I’m very open to it.”
The exhibition begins in the 1600s at the court of Versailles, the era of Louis XIV. “He didn’t know he was inventing camp, but he did!” says Versweyveld, who created a warren of rooms that grow as the decades progress, ultimately opening into a large Venetian-style piazza. In the space dedicated to Sontag, text from “Notes on Camp” is seen being typed out in real time, running above the fashions.
The penultimate room combines fashion with art, both high and low, from masterpieces to product design. Versweyveld took a similar fusion-based approach to his design. “To me, light and space are the same things; they come together,” says Versweyveld. “I’m not an experienced exhibition designer, but being able to think in that unity helped.”
With no shortage of potential exhibits, Bolton arrived at a fairly simple selection criterion. “As I was going through everything, my defining characteristic was, ‘Is this too much?'” he says. “Because ‘too much’ is one of the most defining characteristics of camp – too many sequins, too many feathers, too many bows. That was always my yardstick.”
“I hope it will change how people think of fashion a bit, as an art form that shapes our society and our world,” says Versweyveld. “I was so surprised to see how true camp is a mirror of our society, and it gives us a mirror. It dares to ask us questions about how we’re living. Although people may think fashion is an elite form of art, I hope this show makes the opposite clear.”
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