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The Met’s 2019 Camp costume exhibit is all about the art of being extra

The Met’s 2019 Camp costume exhibit is all about the art of being extra

Everybody’s new hobby on Twitter is shouting ‘That’s not camp!’ as paparazzi photos of Met Gala attendees in puffy, pastel pink outfits flood everyone’s phone screens.

But for those still perplexed at what exactly ‘camp’ is, look no further than the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new costume exhibit itself.

Stepping away from anlayzing the red carpet, pictures at the preview today (7 May) for the Camp: Notes on Fashion exhibition show it’s an exploration of tragic ludicrousness and ludicrous tragedy.

What’s the exhibit about?

Each year, the Met’s Costume Institute host one blockbuster of an exhibition. While every first Monday of May, the eve of the opening, a gala is held to raise funds for the institute; the only curatorial department at the Met that funds itself.

Camp: Notes on Fashion is 2019’s exhibition.

With exactly 250 objects exhibited, it dives deep into the origins of the camp aesthetic. Tracing its powdered and powerful influence in queer communities to the impact it commands on mainstream culture today.

It’s camp in two acts.

The first part of the exhibition looks back to queer subcultures. Mapping out the creative cliques in Europe and America that defined (and defied) queerness through camp in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Think portraits of nude male bodies by gay photographers like Robert Mapplethorpe and Thomas Eakins. Or palatial, posey statues of the Greek God Antinous, Roman emperor Hadrian’s lover.

‘A resurgence of camp’

Furthermore, the second part of the exhibit is a laundry bag of looks. Literally.

White, faceless mannequins prop up the likes of Björk’s infamous swan dress by Marjan Pejosjki. Or the Mugler oyster shell gown Cardi B wore to the Grammys.

While Viktor & Rolf meme-able couture gowns that read ‘Less Is More’ and ‘Sorry I’m Late I Didn’t Want To Come’ also feature. Ready and rearing for the public to Instagram them.

Or Moschino sending models Gigi Hadid and Kaia Gerber down the runway dressed literally as human-sized bouquets. We hope Gala attendees brought their Benadryl hay fever relief.

Curator Andrew Bolton also chose designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen (back when he was helming Givenchy, circa 1997), and Gucci (with their rainbow platform sneakers) to have coveted spots.

Speaking at the exhibit preview this morning, Bolton said: ‘We’re experiencing a resurgence of camp not only in fashion, but in culture in general.


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“the bridge that I usually walk through”

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‘Camp tends to come during times of cultural instability.’

But what exactly is camp?

The dress code memo for celebrity attendees (and their taxed stylists) alike was Susan Sontag’s essay ‘Notes on “Camp.”‘

In the 1964 paper, dedicated to camp icon Oscar Wilde, Sontag drops a 58-point manifesto on what camp is. To the bisexual philosopher, camp is ‘good because it’s awful.’ It’s the ‘style at the expense of content,’ and ‘failed seriousness.’

But with so many definitions, no wonder designers struggled.

Camp is an awfully slippery concept to pin down. One person’s camp can be another person’s kitsch.

Moreover, its political meaning in queer circles are why some are pointing out that the exhibition is, in some ways, problematic. Camp actively resists definition.

Even Bolton admitted that by the time he finished curating the exhibit, he thought ‘everything’ was camp.

Camp: Notes on Fashion opens to the public at The Met Fifth Avenue on 9 May, and is on view until 8 September.

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