Like every year, the first Monday of May opens a new exhibition organized by the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This year Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute, started from Susan Sontag’s essay “Notes on ‘Camp’” (1964) to define what the theme of the new exhibition would be.
“Camp: Notes on Fashion” explores the origins of the camp aesthetic and how this has developed from a marginal role to have an important influence on mass culture. Susan Sontag’s essay is the thread of the inquiry, that examines and explains the cultural impact through the work of designers and fashion maisons.
The etymology of the word comes from the French “se camper”: meaning to pose ostentatiously. “You realize that something or people are camp whenever they perform a role” states Susan Sontag in her 1964 essay “Notes on Camp,” studying it in detail through a list of 58 points. Generally speaking “Camp means: irony, humour, parody, artifice, theatricality, excess, eccentricity and nostalgia”.
The exhibition explores the origins of the eccentric, aesthetic camp sensibility – the intentional, aware and sophisticated use of kitsch, the love for unnatural things and artifice. It shows the evolution of this style up to its success as an important cultural landmark.
In an exhibition exploring aesthetic standards, mannequins are essential, since they offer elements to understand the message. The Costume Institute went to Bonaveri to look for the most suitable figures to interpret the camp aesthetic.
For this occasion, 147 mannequins were selected and customized, chosen among the iconic female figures of the Schläppi 2200 Collection and the male ones of the TRIBE Collection, which is a very versatile collection, extremely suitable to show the youth’s spirit. All figures in matte white and pink.
“Camp: Notes on Fashion” exhibition consists of about 250 objects, including women’s and men’s clothing, sculptures, paintings and drawings from the 17th century up to today.
The opening section of the exhibition identifies the origins of Camp at Versailles, during the royal courts of Louis XIV and Louis XV, then focusing on the dandy figure as ideal point of reference for such aesthetics and investigating the queer subcultures from Europe and America between the end of the XIX century and the beginning of the XX century. Nearly the whole journey is focused on fashion and winds through 170 pieces, all leading back to the 58 criteria mentioned by Susan Sontag in her essay.
The exhibition begins with the clothes taking inspiration from Versailles, designed by Karl Lagerfeld for the 1987 winter collection of Chanel and goes on with the surrealist creations by Elsa Schiapparelli, the pop taste of Mark Jacobs, works by Franco Moschino, the sculptures made of feathers and butterflies by his successor Jeremy Scott. The list of cases representing the camp aesthetics ranges between past and present, from the costumes at the court of the Sun King to the queer aesthetics, from the art nouveau to pop art. According to one of the men of letters, Oscar Wilde, who best embodies the essence of it. He used to say “We must be like works of art or wear works of art”.
Susan Sontag finds camp traces not only in Busby Berkeley’s cinema and in stars like Mae West but also in General de Gaulle; and again in the “Lago dei Cigni”, in Flash Gordon’s cartoons, in Caravaggio, in chinoiserie and in the whole Nouveau Art.
On show there are creations of many designers and maisons, such as: Giorgio Armani, Sarah Burton (for Alexander McQueen), Nicolas Ghesquière (for Louis Vuitton), John Galliano, Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Yves Saint Laurent, Silvia Venturini Fendi, Christian Dior, Gianni Versace, Vivienne Westwood, Christian Lacroix, Alessandro Michele.
The sensational camp nature and the subversion of modern aesthetic values have often been underestimated, but this exhibition intends to reveal its deep influence on art as well as on popular culture. Tracing its evolution and bringing its decisive elements to light, the exhibition embodies the ironic sensitivity of this daring style, challenging conventional beauty and taste and defining the fundamental role that this important style has had in art and fashion history.
Bonaveri Schläppi 2200 Collection Mannequins
TRIBE Collection Mannequins
‘Camp: Notes on Fashion’ Exhibition
9th May – 8th September 2019
The Met Fifth Avenue