Are you ready for the funnier exhibition of the year? The “Camp: Notes on Fashion” at the MET Museum will try to give a possible explanation to the elusive concept of camp, a quest in which many failed! Preceded by the MET Gala night – a triumph of campy philosophy and eccentric style – the MET 2019 EXHIBITION ON CAMP starts its journey through history from the 1671 Moliere play in which the word camp appeared for the first time as a verb (“se camper” to indicate “to flaunt or posture”) to the 21st century fashion creations focused on this volatile aesthetic: exaggeration, theatricality, parody, humor, artifice, and pastiche are only some the elements that render its description a really hard job. As Italian scholar Fabio Cleto said to try to clear our minds: “Camp is a question mark that won’t let its line be straightened into an exclamation point”. Its pretentious essence – scattering from fashion items to cultural themes and ideas – is what you are going to find at the MET 2019 EXHIBITION ON CAMP! Do you want to know more? Let’s begin!
THE MET 2019 EXHIBITION ON CAMP
From May 9th to September 8th, at the Met Fifth Avenue (NYC), the exhibition “Camp: Notes on Fashion” will be featured in the museum’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall. Andrew Bolton, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute, decided to give a concise structure to the exhibition – an artistic journey in which nothing is explained and pinned down, leaving a total freedom of opinion to its visitors, capable of reaching their own conclusions (or maybe not!).
Starting from the first part of the MET 2019 EXHIBITION ON CAMP about the historical contest and the first times and approaches to the camp style: from the 17th century European queer culture – in which Louis XIV’s Versailles could be an archetype of camp architecture – explained through sculptures, paintings, and letters, and grounds camp in a pink-painted gallery, to the figure of Oscar Wild, arrested for “gross indecency”. The Irish poet was the inspirations behind Susan Sontag’s essay “Note on camp”, used as an explanatory system by the curator to give a wider perspective of camp style, right next to the relative fashion items.
Camp is the reinforcement of the mass production’s power versus products’ uniqueness, like the Warhol Campbell’s tomato soup printed on a minidress or artifice and exaggeration to the extreme, like a three million feather dress or fashion from the twenties, it’s “superficial style over content”.
The second part of the MET 2019 EXHIBITION ON CAMP tries to provide a closer-to-the-truth answer to the question “What is Camp?” and consists of a darkened room in which various rainbow-colored display cases are filled with fashion items and accessories. The focus is oriented on these last elements and their value as autonomous objects: “Accessories are camp in themselves. They are such a vehicle for novelty and whimsy”.
The essay and other artists’ possible descriptions offer a welcoming framework, useful to provide a cultural and historical perspective. But the inspiration of camp models in fashion through decades and the ramification of camp sensibility in cultural and political societies created an extremely fluid and dynamic concept, almost impossible to grasp within our minds. As the curator admitted: “I want people to leave thinking, ‘What is camp?’ That is the power and the poetry behind camp, constantly trying to define it.”
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