Published on May 10th, 2013 | by Sarah0
Punk: Chaos To Couture, Slightly Sanitized Fashion
The Met’s new exhibit “Punk: Chaos to Couture” falls short of expectations by a fair margin, but it’s still a strong statement about what museum shows covering the fashion world can be.
The exhibit definitely spent more time exploring “Couture” than “Chaos”. Most of the pieces were less than a decade old by big name designers, and by most I mean around 75%. This emphasis felt misguided. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but the skew was more dramatic than I was expecting. Seeing new high-end design was not what I was looking forward to.
Apart from that, the whole exhibition felt a little too clean. I was expecting grit and marks of wear, but everything was polished and carefully distressed. Even the wall treatments felt too pristine. I don’t normally expect much from museums in this regard, I’m use to white walls and simple placards. I really appreciate that the Costume Institute has chosen to create context for the work, but it didn’t feel like they created the right context. It was occasionally impressive, ambitious, and beautiful, but it wasn’t punk.
I think they tried to remedy this by including two replications of historically significant punk locations. The first was a punk clothing store in London, and the second was the bathroom of the famous New York club CBGB OMFUG. I don’t think either added too much to the exhibit aside from some probable nostalgia for folks who visited back in the day, and it felt forced. I would have gladly traded the space for more fashion, but in the end this was a minor complaint. Divided into four sections, covering agitprop, bricolage, hardware, and ‘destroy’, you definitely do get a clear sense of how the late 70′s music movement continues to influence designers today.
Even more minor was my objection to the hair treatments. Every mannequin, EVERY mannequin, was fitted with a big spiky/fluffy wig. I thought they looked like truffela trees from “The Lorax”, and someone else dubbed them “pom poms”. The colors varied, but the shape and style were consistent. At first I liked it, but by the end I felt short changed. It hurt even more once I flipped through the exhibit book and found photographs of incredible punk headdresses, hats, and hairstyles. I couldn’t help but wonder why these hadn’t been included, it was such a missed opportunity.
However the fatal flaw of the show is that it wasn’t as good as Savage Beauty. Normally that wouldn’t be a fair comparison, but since Nick Knight, Sam Gainsbury, and Guido Palau were involved with both shows, it seems like a reasonable point.
I loved Savage Beauty- it was an splendid exhibit, about an amazing designer, by amazing designers. It made me a McQueen fan, it changed my perception of what fashion, art, and museums could be. It made many people feel both inspired and inadequate. Any exhibit by the Costume Institute will have to answer to that comparison, and Chaos to Couture doesn’t weather that experience well. However, this is still a bold example of what a museum exhibit can attempt, and it’s great to see the Met taking those attempts, even if the message isn’t quite clear. Runs now through August 14th at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and be prepared for lines!