The year 2020 is a milestone for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The New York institution will celebrate its 150th anniversary with a series of exhibitions, many of which will put the spotlight on masterworks in its collections, as well as new acquisitions made as part of the 2020 Collections Initiative in honour of the anniversary.
In keeping with the year’s theme, today the Met announced that The Costume Institute’s spring exhibition will showcase a century-and-a-half of fashion history culled from its archive and presented along a “disruptive” timeline. “About Time: Fashion and Duration,” says Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute, takes a “nuanced and open-ended” approach. “It’s a reimagining of fashion history that’s fragmented, discontinuous, and heterogeneous.”
Bolton found inspiration for the exhibition in the 1992 Sally Potter film Orlando, which was based on the time-travelling Virginia Woolf novel of the same name. “There’s a wonderful scene,” he says, “in which Tilda Swinton enters the maze in an 18th-century woman’s robe à la Francaise, and as she runs through it, her clothes change to mid-19th-century dress, and she reemerges in 1850s England. That’s where the original idea came from.”
Virginia Woolf acts as the show’s “ghost narrator,” with quotes from her time-based books including Orlando, Mrs Dalloway, and To the Lighthouse appearing throughout the exhibition, not unlike how Susan Sontag’s quotes guided viewers through this year’s Camp: Notes on Fashion show. The philosopher Henri Bergson, whose concept of la durée—time that flows, accumulates, and is indivisible—also provided some of the show’s framework. In addition, Michael Cunningham, whose novel The Hours, a postmodernist reading of Mrs Dalloway, won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize, will contribute a short story to the exhibition’s catalogue. “What I like about Woolf’s version of time is the idea of a continuum,” Bolton says. “There’s no beginning, middle, or end. It’s one big fat middle. I always felt the same about fashion. Fashion is the present.”
In a press release, Max Hollein, director of the Met, elaborated on the concept: “This exhibition will consider the ephemeral nature of fashion, employing flashbacks and fast-forwards to reveal how it can be both linear and cyclical.” Bolton will highlight a variety of “folds in time.” They could include comparisons between two designers of different eras, like Alaïa and Vionnet or Poiret and Galliano. “Or it might be juxtapositions between two designers from a certain period who were competitive, and one survived and one didn’t,” like “Chanel and Patou in the ’20s and Rei Kawakubo and Georgina Godley in the ’80s.”
About Time: Fashion and Duration will be on view at the Costume Institute from May 7 through September 7, 2020.
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