Sunday, May 8, 2016

Manus x Machina at the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Chanel Haute Couture Winter 2015 wedding gown is the centerpiece of the exhibit.
I had the pleasure this week of attending the preview of the new exhibition at the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is called "Manus x Machina, Fashion in an Age of Technology" and was produced by Curator in Charge Andrew Bolton. Given the title, I thought this show would be about modern technology, and many of the women who attended the Met Ball Gala later that night wore silvery metal robot-like dresses, but to me that missed the mark as this show is more about processes and techniques, and how the handmade (manus) can combine with machine-made (machina) in clothing. The show celebrates how technology carries craft into the future - kind of like a digital blog about beautiful things.

For the preview on a day when the museum was closed to the public, guests were directed to the Robert Lehman Wing, where I have never seen a costume show staged before. This wing consists of a two-floor circle that visitors walk around but for this show the center was ingeniously filled in with a temporary floor creating an inner gallery where the Chanel gown pictured above was housed. OMA, the architectural firm, did an amazing job designing a cathedral-like environment for the show with gauzy white scrims complete with arches and alcoves. The mystical "An Ending (Ascent)" by Brian Eno played overheard. The whole setting was very serene and ecclesiastical, which I thought was a striking juxtaposition given the machine technology theme.

The Chanel wedding gown provided the inspiration for the show. It's made out of a scuba knit synthetic material and is machine sewn. The pattern on the long train in the back was digitally manipulated to make it look pixelated. But then the gold metallic pigment was hand-applied, and pearls and gemstones were embroidered by hand, thus illustrating the marriage of the machine-made and handmade.

I circled around the exhibit, trying to take in the 170 garments, dating back to the early 1990s, on display.
Shimmering Louis Vuitton dresses were shown next to turquoise Norman Norells -

and artificial flowers in pretty pastels were applied to Prada dresses (center) -

I walked down to the lower level and while I was admiring jewel-tone Mary McFadden pleated gowns, New York Social photographer and writer Jill Krementz snapped this pic of me - 

You can read Jill's very thorough report on the preview and show here.

Is was time to hear the prepared remarks in the stunning Carroll and Milton Petrie European Sculpture Court. Thomas Campbell, the director of The Met welcomed the crowd, and then Jony Ives, the chief designer of Apple, which sponsored the show, spoke. Andrew Bolton (pictured below) said that the show is "a celebration of the art of making, using hand and machine," and offered "a temple to the beauty and artistry of fashion." Anna Wintour, resplendent in a colorful Prada dress and coat, sat with her three British compatriots in the front row as well.

After the remarks I returned to the galleries to look at more of the garments.
In a gallery devoted to tailoring, a small team of Chanel suits proved their timelessness –

This dress that looks unconstructed is actually a Dior haute couture ensemble by John Galliano designed to appear dramatically unfinished -

A jacket by John Galliano for Maison Margiela is hand-trimmed with black lacquered toy cars. He really is a genius.

A dress by Gareth Pugh is hand-embroidered with clear plastic drinking straws around the neck. The see-through scrims and shadows created an ethereal setting.

It was hard to leave this show that really offers an escape from the reality of the street. But soon it was time to go. On the way out I passed empty halls of marble sculptures -

and the majestic Greek and Roman Gallery.

It really was a dream.

Blog bonus: Hear Andrew Bolton talking about the new exhibit in this video:


The Swan said...

Andrew is a GENIUS...and his youth forecasts a long reign! Wonderful synopsis of this magisterial exhibition so resplendent within the Cathedral setting...a Vatican of Fashion - with La Wintour as Pope!

Dean Farris said...

Great post!