The Met's Heavenly Bodies exhibition praises fashion and Catholicism
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Heavenly Bodies at the MET

The Met's Heavenly Bodies exhibition praises fashion influenced by Catholicism

Ties between fashion and the Catholic church are examined in an exhibition split across two venues of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Heavenly Bodies at the MET

Organised by the museum's Costume Institute in collaboration with the department of Medieval Art, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination explores how the religion's imagery and symbolism has impacted contemporary haute-couture and ready-to-wear designs.

Heavenly Bodies at the MET

"The exhibition situates costumes alongside religious artworks to provide an interpretive context for fashion's engagement in Catholicism," said chief curator Andrew Bolton during a press conference.

Heavenly Bodies at the MET

"Most of the designers featured in the exhibition were raised Catholic," he continued. "While many of them no longer practice, their relationships to Catholicism vary considerably. Most acknowledge its significant influence over their imaginations."

Heavenly Bodies at the MET

Visitors are invited to make a "pilgrimage" through various sections of the Fifth Avenue building, before travelling to The Met Cloisters at Manhattan's northern tip for the second part.

Heavenly Bodies at the MET

The two locations cover different themes relating to the overall title, across a total of 25 galleries and 60,000 square feet (5,570 square metres) of exhibition space designed by New York architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

Heavenly Bodies at the MET

At Fifth Avenue, spread through the Byzantine and Medieval galleries, the garments and ensembles on show represent the opulence and "pageantry" often associated with Catholicism.

Extravagant pieces by famed designers like Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano were chosen for their visual connections to "the cults of saints, angels and the Virgin Mary".

Heavenly Bodies at the MET

Arranged in a row are a series of contemporary designs based on the cassock – a full-length garment typically worn by male members of the clergy – while a line-up of mannequins opposite display various interpretations of the traditional nun's habit.

Heavenly Bodies at the MET

A cast a colourfully dressed characters, arranged to look like angels found in the paintings by early renaissance Italian artist Fra Angelico, can be found in the Lehman Wing.

In the Anna Wintour Costume Center is a collection of over 40 papal robes and attire borrowed from The Vatican archives and Sistine Chapel Sacristy, dating from the mid-18th to early 21st century. The delicately embroidered garments and intricately decorated crowns, tiaras and other jewellery are the first pieces from the historic collection to be displayed at The Met since 1983 – and some have never been seen outside The Vatican before.

Heavenly Bodies at the MET

Meanwhile uptown, the Cloisters – a collection of French monasteries rebuilt together in Fort Tyron park – displays items influenced by the more contemplative aspects of the religion.

"These spaces provide the conceptual framework for fashions inspired by monastic orders," said Bolton. "The designers featured are well known for their minimalist sensibilities and monochromatic colour palettes." These include Rick Owens and Gareth Pugh.

Heavenly Bodies at the MET

The most dramatic displays at this location are two wedding ensembles placed at separate altar spaces within the complex – one by late Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga – and a pair of Valentino outfits presented on high podiums in one of the courtyard spaces.

Heavenly Bodies at the MET

Another room features representations of the garden of eden, including a set of garments by Japanese brand Undercover printed with detailed scenes from a triptych of paintings titled The Garden of Earthly Delights by 15th- and 16th-century Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch.

"Taken together, the fashions and artworks in Heavenly Bodies sing in unison with enchanted and enchanting voices," Bolton said.

Heavenly Bodies at the MET

The Costume Institute organises a spring exhibition each year, the opening of which on the first Monday in May is accompanied by The Met Gala – one of the most eagerly anticipated events in the annual fashion calendar.

Previous editions have included a retrospective of work by Comme des Garcons founder Rei Kuwakabo, an examination of the relationship between handcraft and machine production, and an exploration of China's influence on designers over the years.

Heavenly Bodies opens to the public from 10 May 2018 and runs until 8 October 2018.

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Heavenly Bodies at the MET
Heavenly Bodies at the MET