You’ve undoubtedly seen all the red carpet looks from Monday night’s annual Met Gala but now it’s time to forget the celebrity hub-bub and focus on the true star of the evening, the exhibition it celebrates: “Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between.”
Opening to the public on Friday and running through September 4, 2017, the show is the first fashion retrospective of a living designer The Metropolitan Museum in New York has staged since it celebrated the work of Yves St. Laurent in 1983. It features 140 examples of the famed Japanese designer’s avant-garde womenswear creations since she launched CDG in 1969, and just like her and her aesthetic and approach, it shatters many of the traditional rules of museum curation and presentation.
Kawakubo is known as a press-shy woman of few words and the exhibition also shuns verbiage. Laid out by her and presented in rabbit warren-like space with odd paths (much like her brand’s stores) and 21 often cave-like display areas representing nine main divergent, cryptic themes such as “Absence/Presence,” “Then/Now” and “Fashion/Antifashion,” the show has no explanatory or historical text on the walls or floor at all. If visitors want information or background on the designs they instead have to consult a printed paper program/map that appropriately opens with the following quote from Kawakubo: “I like to work with space and emptiness.”
While this highly minimalist approach clearly creates a dramatic overall effect it also makes learning about the clothes’ history and make-up a bit burdensome. This “art gallery” approach vs. a museum one is also evident in how the designs are displayed. All are full-on outfits on mannequins–there are no standalone accessories or single items in display cases–and the brightly lit room’s silence and starkness is also achieved with a complete lack of multimedia displays, historical photographs and memorabilia, etc.
It’s an unorthodox approach for sure, but in the end it truly suits the often jaw-dropping designs on display–pieces that are technically “fashion” but are simultaneously timeless, ever-enigmatic sculptural expressions that brilliantly stand as examples of the blurry lines that supposedly separate apparel and art.