Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between opens on May 4
The eyes of the fashion world is set on the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the opening of the Costume Institute’s annual spring exhibit. The museum has been preparing for the opening and the star-studded Met Gala since last week, constructing a full-scale red carpet entrance on 82nd Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan’s Upper East Side and floral signage for this year’s exhibit, Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between.
The Costume Institute’s spring 2017 exhibit marks as the Institute’s first monographic show about a living designer since the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit in 1983, and it is the most recent exhibit about a single designer since Alexander McQueen in 2011.
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty set a precedent for the Costume Institute by setting an attendance record that has since been surpassed by Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology in 2016 and current attendance record holder, China: Through the Looking Glass, which also stands as the Met Museum’s fifth most visited exhibit.
Andrew Bolton, Costume Institute Curator in Charge, is the link between these three exhibits and Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons, having curated all of these shows and breathed life into the exhibitions much like his predecessor Harold Koda, who retired from the Costume Institute in January 2016.
This year too, Costume Institute may be expecting yet another attendance record for this year’s exhibit thanks to Bolton’s winning vision and the extended exhibit schedule that mirrors Manus x Machina. The 2016 exhibit was initially planned to run from May 5 to August 14, but it was extended three weeks to September 5.
The popularity of the Costume Institute’s spring exhibition is also helped by extensive media coverage related to the Met Gala and the 2016 documentary film ‘The First Monday in May.’ The Magnolia Pictures film that chronicled preparations for the China: Through the Looking Glass exhibit has become a common phrase among fashion enthusiasts that look forward to the glamorous Met Gala event and the spring exhibit every year, and it could have a positive impact on this year’s turn out coupled with the revered Rei Kawakubo’s fan base.
New York City’s fashion press hustled to the museum on Monday morning for a press preview and waited in queue to see how the 2017 spring exhibit would hold up in comparison to past years.
Andrew Bolton, Met Museum Director Thomas P. Campbell, and Caroline Kennedy, the former United States Ambassador to Japan and friend of Rei Kawakubo, held a press conference at 11am to share a few words about the exhibit and the Comme des Garçons founder to preview attendees, whose ranks boasted many a fashion aristocrat, such as Grace Coddington, Suzy Menkes, Natalie Massenet, Simon Doonan, Thom Browne, Nick Wooster and Fern Mallis, to name a few.
“There is something about the uncompromising originality of her work, the commitment to excellence, the attention to detail,” said Kennedy about the designer. These words also best describe the exhibit that is very unlike the Costume Institute’s past spring exhibitions.
Designed in collaboration by Kawakubo and Fabien Baron, the space is a stark white hall with small rooms and stages that house Comme des Garçons ensembles. Each room and stage is coyly marked by numbers and categories such as Absence/Presence, Self/Other and Clothes/Not Clothes, and each category is broken down further by titles such as War/Peace under Clothes/Not Clothes and Birth/Marriage/Death under Then/Now.
The ensembles are united only in category and not by the season. For instance, the Design/Not Design display by the entrance features a light brown polyester chiffon and organza dress from the Comme des Garçons fall 1997-98, and a dress of brown paper from the recent fall 2017-18 collection. Object/Subject, the eighth display that is also close to the entrance, features only ensembles from the spring 1997 collection that rethought the human form and created an illusion of dysmorphia.
The exhibition design, which is inspired by the concept of “in-betweenness,” mu (emptiness) and ma (space), looks much like the Comme des Garçons store in New York City with structural dividers and rooms, or the Dover Street Market on Lexington Avenue, which utilizes a similar concept to better highlight each designer and product. According to the Costume Institute, Kawakubo “regards her fashion and their environments as a Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art.” The German word explains why the space, much like Kawakubo’s fashions, seems boundary-less, flowing and an experience in itself.
“If she didn’t already exist, we’d have to invent her,” said Bolton about Kawakubo. The audience at the press conference collectively agreed about the revered designer, and the Costume Institute on May 4, opening day, will now see if the general public agrees too.
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