The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced the theme of its 2019 Fashion Gala and Exhibition a few days ago and it is ‘Camp: Notes on Fashion’.
Having survived the 1970s and all the revivals of that sartorially challenged decade, I could not help but feel a bit taken aback. Why on earth dignify that style with a Met exhibition? Why remind us of what vestiary atrocities the Baby Boomers were guilty of? But then I do remember the fun and irreverence that was involved, and that identity was met with ambiguity, and that popular culture (re)discovered gender bending then.
According to Vogue, Andrew Bolton’s starting point is Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay ‘Notes on Camp’ and his interpretation that camp is ‘love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration … style at the expense of content … the triumph of the epicene style’.
That of course make the theme even more timely than any nostalgic waxing about decades past. Given that ‘camp’ then becomes a means to construct and express sexual and gender identities that challenge prevalent definitions, there is a chance here to see and appreciate different sartorial statements that go ‘against the grain’. To quote the Vogue article,
Camp, as Bolton notes, “has become increasingly more mainstream in its pluralities—political camp, queer camp, Pop camp, the conflation of high and low, the idea that there is no such thing as originality.” Camp, he continues, has been described as style without content.
Except that style for style’s sake now does express ‘content’: the rejection of established and disciplinary social norms. Fashion again become a medium through which to upset and escape the powers that be (recall my fascination with Baudrillard’s discussion of it). And perhaps that then is the other part of Bolton’s personal agenda: to move from the restrictive aesthetics of Catholicism to the emancipatory aspects of fashion as a site of liberation.
So I look forward to another splendid summer day in New York City. What worries me a bit is that this exhibition is confined to just Gallery 999 at the Met. If memory serves me right, that was the gallery for the underwhelming Kawakubo exhibition, suggesting ‘Camp’ might be nothing more than an afterthought. Not even the 70’s deserve that. I think…