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August 22 2014

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the met gets techno

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Dressform

Given that fashion is often accused of being slow to adapt to new technology, our interest was piqued when we heard of the upcoming exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. “Blog.mode: Addressing Fashion,” which opens today and runs until April 2008, will include 40 of the museum’s most recent acquisitions. But what caught our attention is the fact that the Met’s official Web site will conduct a blog discussion of the exhibit, which includes everything from a red wool man’s suit circa 1730 to a deconstructed Dior ball gown made in 2005. Intrigued, we caught up with Harold Koda, the chief curator of the Costume Institute, to talk shop.

Where did the idea for a blogosphere-centric exhibit come from?

It’s the convergence of several ideas that have been percolating in our department. All of us have been following various fashion-related blogs. I loved seeing the passion and emotional investment the posters and respondents had for their subject, and the critical thinking that often emerged in the online conversations. It’s a kind of self-selected vox populi.

Is there anything specific to the Costume Institute that would encourage debate?

The galleries at the Costume Institute are always noisier with conversation than the galleries of the other curatorial departments. Everyone wears clothes and everyone has opinions about what they wear and what other people wear. Frankly, we’ve always been curious about what people were saying to each other as they confronted an eighteenth-century corset, a white muslin morning gown, Blahnik heels, or a Gaultier men’s girdle suit.

How were the garments for the show selected?

Originally “Blog.mode” was going to be a chronological survey of the masterworks of the collection. But we decided to invest the project with more currency by focusing on pieces we’ve collected since 2000. Some bloggers quickly noted that this is a new-acquisitions exhibition tarted up with the blog aspect. Actually, it’s a blog, tarted up by our new acquisitions!

What are the standout pieces?

I have so many favorites in the show. An Austrian court gown from 1910 that is a manifestation of the calcification of protocol and ritual in the waning days of the Austro-Hungarian empire, which turns out to have bugle beads gilded with pure gold. Custom-made boots for ladies of the night, made in the 1920′s in a style of the Belle Époque, but with heels that anticipate the New Look stiletto. A gown from Olivier Theyskens’ first collection for Nina Ricci, which takes the spiraling gesture of the L’Air du Temps flacon and transforms it into a froth of tulle…I could go on.

What do you hope to achieve by giving all visitors and viewers a forum to discuss the exhibit?

In most of our exhibitions, there is a definite curatorial premise superimposed on a collection of objects. In “Blog.mode,” the expectation is that the public has the opportunity to consider and discuss individual objects, the way curators do. We want to hear what people think about these extraordinary material expressions of culture, politics, economics, gender, sexuality, society at large—hopefully elaborating on ideas beyond the aesthetic considerations that have aprimacy in the museum’s own curatorial approach.

Do you have any idea what kind of responses you might get?

No, and that is both frightening and exhilarating.

Photo: Courtesy of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Dept. of Culture