Just two days after the close of the Metropolitan Museum’s blockbuster 2018 Costume Institute show “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”—its most-visited exhibition ever—the institute has announced its next outing: a show about camp fashion and irony inspired by the writings of Susan Sontag.
“We are going through an extreme camp moment,” Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton told the New York Times, adding that camp can be a powerful political tool, “especially for marginalized cultures.” (Even President Trump is a very camp figure, Bolton argued.)
Quickly switching gears from the sacred to the profane, “Camp: Notes on Fashion” will touch on everything from the origins of camp at the palace of Versailles in the 17th century, at the lavish court of Louis XIV, to the Stonewall riots in New York and the embrace of camp by the queer community. Camp fashion is characterized as over-the-top, pushing back against conservatism, and elevating a kind of flamboyance that at first blush may seem totally frivolous.
“Camp‘s disruptive nature and subversion of modern aesthetic values has often been trivialized, but this exhibition will reveal its profound influence on both high art and popular culture,” said Met director Max Hollein in a statement. “By tracing its evolution and highlighting its defining elements, the show will embody the ironic sensibilities of this audacious style, challenge conventional understandings of beauty and taste, and establish the critical role this important genre has played in the history of art and fashion.”
The show’s name is a play on Sontag’s 1964 essay “Notes on ‘Camp,’” which identified 58 ways to define the concept. Camp is “love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration,” she wrote, “style at the expense of content.”
“The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful.”
The exhibition will include 175 objects, including sculptures, paintings, and drawings, as well as fashion. Among the approximately 37 brands and designers expected to be featured are Charles Frederick Worth, Elsa Schiaparelli, Balenciaga, Vivienne Westwood, Miuccia Prada, Demna Gvasalia, and Rei Kawakubo, who was the subject of the 2017 Costume Institute show—the first living designer to achieve the honor in more than 30 years.
“I think you’ve got to be incredibly sophisticated to understand camp,” Bolton told Vogue.
Gucci and scenographer Jan Versweyveld are underwriting the exhibition. As always, the celebrity-studded Met Gala will mark the opening. The gala is co-chaired by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. Joining her as hosts in 2019 will be tennis star Serena Williams, former One Direction heartthrob Harry Styles, Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, and Lady Gaga—perhaps the 21st century’s queen of camp.
“Camp: Notes on Fashion” will be on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, May 9–September 8, 2019.
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