Do you follow the audaciously wonderful fashion of the Met Gala each year? Ever daydream about seeing the beautifully layered designs in person? Well then, you may want to get your ticket to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Camp Exhibition. Through September 8, you can enjoy a pink carpet of sorts, full of fashion, history, and creativity—and understand how this year’s Camp theme came to life.
The Costume Institute’s spring 2019 exhibition, Camp: Notes on Fashion, explores the origins of camp’s exuberant aesthetic and how the sensibility evolved from a place of marginality to become an important influence on mainstream culture. Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay “Notes on ‘Camp’” provides the framework for the exhibition, which examines how fashion designers have used their métier as a vehicle to engage with camp in a myriad of compelling, humorous, and sometimes incongruous ways.
“Camp’s disruptive nature and subversion of modern aesthetic values has often been trivialized, but this exhibition reveals that it has had a profound influence on both high art and popular culture,” said Max Hollein, Director of The Met. “By tracing its evolution and highlighting its defining elements, the show embodies the ironic sensibilities of this audacious style, challenges conventional understandings of beauty and taste, and establishes the critical role that this important genre has played in the history of art and fashion.”
In celebration of the opening, The Costume Institute Benefit—also known as The Met Gala—took place in early May. The evening’s co-chairs are Lady Gaga, Alessandro Michele, Harry Styles, Serena Williams, and Anna Wintour. The event is the institute’s main source of annual funding for exhibitions, publications, acquisitions, and capital improvements.
“Fashion is the most overt and enduring conduit of the camp aesthetic,” said Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute. “Effectively illustrating Sontag’s ‘Notes on “Camp,”’ the exhibition advances creative and critical dialogue about the ongoing and ever-evolving impact of camp on fashion.”
More About Camp
The exhibition features approximately 250 objects, including womenswear and menswear, as well as sculptures, paintings, and drawings dating from the 17th century to the present. The show’s opening section positions Versailles as a “camp Eden” and address the concept of se camper—“to posture boldly”—in the royal courts of Louis XIV and Louis XV. It then focuses on the figure of the dandy as a “camp ideal” and traces camp’s origins to the queer subcultures of Europe and America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In her essay, Sontag defined camp as an aesthetic and outlined its primary characteristics. The second section of the exhibition is devoted to how these elements—which include irony, humor, parody, pastiche, artifice, theatricality, and exaggeration—are expressed in fashion.