What to See at Latest Met Costume Institute Exhibit

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Photos: Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute

After a splashy gala on Monday night, co-chaired by Tom Brady, Gisele Bündchen, Katy Perry, Pharrell Williams, and Anna Wintour the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute spring 2017 exhibition, Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between, opens to the public (May 4 through September 4). This year’s show examines Kawakubo’s fascination with interstitiality, that in-between space of visual ambiguity where conventional notions of beauty, good taste, and fashionability are challenged.  Kawakubo said, “I have always pursued a new way of thinking about design…by denying established values, conventions, and what is generally accepted as the norm. And the modes of expression that have always been most important to me are fusion…imbalance… unfinished… elimination…and absence of intent.”

A thematic exhibition rather than a traditional retrospective, this is the Costume Institute’s first monographic show on a living designer since the Yves Saint Laurent show in 1983. “In blurring the art/fashion divide, Kawakubo asks us to think differently about clothing,” said Thomas P. Campbell, director of The Met. “Curator Andrew Bolton explores work that often looks like sculpture in an exhibition that challenges our ideas about fashion’s role in contemporary culture.”

04.BloodandRoses,Spring2015 2The exhibition features approximately 140 examples of Kawakubo’s womenswear designs for Comme des Garçons, dating from the early 1980s to her most recent collection. Objects are organized into nine recurring aesthetic expressions of interstitiality in the designer’s work: Absence/Presence, Design/Not Design, Fashion/Anti- Fashion, Model/Multiple, High/Low, Then/Now, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/ Not Clothes. Her fashions demonstrate that interstices are places of meaningful connection and coexistence as well as revolutionary innovation and transformation, providing Kawakubo with endless possibilities to rethink the female body and feminine identity. “Rei Kawakubo is one of the most important and influential designers of the past 40 years,” said Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute. “By inviting us to rethink fashion as a site of constant creation, recreation, and hybridity, she has defined the aesthetics of our time.”

The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, on The Met Fifth Avenue’s second floor, has been transformed into an open, brightly lit white box with geometric structures. Intended to be a holistic, immersive experience, the space facilitates engagement with the fashions on display. A suggested pathway begins with four ensembles enclosed in a cylinder, reflecting Kawakubo’s enduring interest in blurring the boundaries between body and dress. Visitors, however, are encouraged to forge their own paths and experience the exhibition as a voyage of discovery.


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The spare space has no text on the walls—instead, at the entrance, visitors receive an exhibition guide with gallery text and object labels. For more information: www.metmuseum.org/ReiKawakubo