Camp: Notes on Fashion exhibition opens at The Met gallery
Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met celebrates "resurgence of camp" in new exhibition Camp: Notes on Fashion

The Met's Costume Institute has unveiled a pink-hued exhibition exploring camp fashion across the centuries, from the playful to the outrageous.

Camp: Notes on Fashion opens this week, following the Met Gala on Monday. Camp was chosen as the theme, thanks to the rising trend for deliberately exaggerated and theatrical fashion.

"We are experiencing a resurgence of camp," said Andrew Bolton, chief curator for the Costume Institute, at a launch event earlier this week.

Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Camp: Notes on Fashion responds to the rising trend for theatrical fashion

Although usually associated with LGBT culture, the word camp describes anything that is intentionally ostentatious or excessively effeminate.

"This exhibition might raise more questions than it answers: 'Is camp gay' 'Is camp political?' And, ultimately, 'What is camp?'," reads a statement from The Met.

Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
It starts with art from Versailles, the royal courts of Louis XIV and Louis XV of France

"There are periods, however, including the 1960s, the 1980s, and the era in which we live now, when camp comes to the fore as the defining aesthetic of the times," it said.

"It is no coincidence that camp resurfaces during moments of social, political, and economic instability – when society is polarised – because, despite its mainstreaming, it has never lost its power to subvert and to challenge the status quo."

Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Exhibition spaces are coloured in a vivid shade of pink

The show features meandering exhibition spaces, all coloured in a vivid shade of pink.

Glass vitrines display objects from The Met's collection with a camp sensibility, including sculptures, paintings and drawings dating from the 17th century to the present. There are also 140 fashion ensembles on show.

Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
An echo chamber features quotes from Susan Sontag, who made camp go mainstream

Guiding the entire exhibition is Susan Sontag's seminal 1964 essay, Notes on Camp, which describes camp as an aesthetic. The work was so influential that it catapulted the word camp into mainstream culture.

The essay features at the start of the exhibition, in a study of the etymology and origins of camp. Another installation displays Sontag's 58 principles of camp, which include irony, humour, parody, pastiche, artifice, theatricality and exaggeration.

Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
This dark, double-height room is filled with examples of camp fashion

Sontag's words also crop up again in an echo chamber that concludes the show.

This dark, double-height room is filled with colourful glass fronted boxes containing examples of camp fashion, with titles like Gender without Genitals, and Dandyism in the Age of Mass Culture.

Layered audio snippets create the echo-chamber effect. Many of these are Sontag's original quotes, spoken by prolific fashion designers, and overlaid with interjections of Judy Garland singing Over the Rainbow.

Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Exhibits include a three-headed flamingo headpiece by Stephen Jones

"Camp’s disruptive nature and subversion of modern aesthetic values has often been trivialised, but this exhibition reveals that it has had a profound influence on both high art and popular culture," said Max Hollein, director of The Met.

"By tracing its evolution and highlighting its defining elements, the show embodies the ironic sensibilities of this audacious style, challenges conventional understandings of beauty and taste, and establishes the critical role that this important genre has played in the history of art and fashion."

Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Susan Sontag's seminal 1964 essay, Notes on Camp, frames other parts of the exhibition

One of the first rooms in the show includes an Italian bronze statue of a boy, which was part of a collection belonging to King Louis XIV of France. It features in a room themed Beau Ideal, in reference to an early 19th-century concept of male beauty.

The exhibit continues with more art relating to Versailles, the royal courts of Louis XIV and Louis XV, and objects exploring the figure of the dandy.

The exhibit then traces camp's origins to the queer subcultures of Europe and America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Designers featured include Vivienne Westwood, Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel, Erdem, Jeremy Scott and Maison Margiela. Also included are outfits worn by Anglo-Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde, who is inextricably linked to the image of the effeminate aristocrat.

Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
There is also a display dedicated to artist Andy Warhol

The Met's Costume Institute organises a spring exhibition every year. Last year's, Heavenly Bodies, was themed on religion, while others have included a retrospective of Comme des Garcons founder Rei Kawakubo, a study of handcraft and machine production, and an exploration of China.

Camp: Notes on Fashion opens to the public on 9 May 2019 and runs until 8 September 2019.

Photography is by Zach Hilty courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Project credits:

Exhibit curators: Andrew Bolton, Karen Van Godtsenhoven, Amanda Garfinkel
Exhibit design: Jan Versweyveld, Raul Avila
Headdress design: Stephen Jones

More images

Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Jeremy Scott for Moschino, Spring Summer 2018
Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bertrand Guyon for Schiaparelli, Fall Winter 2017
Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Jeremy Scott for Moschino, Spring Summer 2017
Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Alessandro Michele for Gucci, Fall 2016
Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Off-White, Pre Fall 2018
Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Wedding Ensemble by Palomo Spain, Spring Summer 2018
Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Swan dress by Marjan Pejoski, FallWinter 2000-2001
Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Cut-out men's ensemble by Jeremy Scott, Spring Summer 2012
Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Men and women's ensemble by Walter Van Beirendonck and Vivienne Westwood
Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Irony shirt by Franco Moschino, Spring 1991
Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Thom Browne, Spring 2017
Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Black ballet dress by Franco Moschino, Fall 1989
Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
MarcJacobs, Spring 2016
Camp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of ArtCamp: Notes on Fashion by the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Question mark dress by Rossella Jardini for Moschino, Spring 1998