The exhibition will feature approximately 160 examples of women’s fashion dating from 1870—the year of The Met’s founding and the start of a decade that witnessed the development of a standardized time system—to the present. The majority of objects in the show will come from The Costume Institute’s collection, including gifts made as part of The Met’s 2020 Collections Initiative in celebration of the Museum’s 150th anniversary.
A linear chronology of fashion comprised predominantly of ensembles in black will run through the exhibition reflecting the progressive timescale of modernity, and bringing into focus the fast, fleeting rhythm of fashion. Unlike traditional chronologies, which reduce the history of fashion to a limited number of decade-defining silhouettes, this timeline will be presented as a ceaseless continuum that is more complete and comprehensive in scope. Interrupting this timeline will be a series of counter-chronologies composed of predominantly white ensembles that pre-date or post-date those in black, but relate to one another through shape, motif, material, pattern, technique, or decoration. For example, a black silk faille princess-line dress from the late 1870s will be paired with an Alexander McQueen “Bumster” skirt from 1995, and a black silk velvet bustle ensemble from the mid-1880s will be juxtaposed with a Comme des Garçons “Body Meets Dress – Dress Meets Body” dress from 1997.
The exhibition will conclude with a section on the future of fashion, linking the concept of duration to debates about longevity and sustainability.
The exhibition is organized by Andrew Bolton with support from Amanda Garfinkel, Assistant Curator, and Jan Reeder, Curatorial Consultant. Visual artist and stage designer Es Devlin, known for creating large-scale performative sculptures and environments that fuse light, music, and language, will create the exhibition design with The Met’s Design Department. Landscape architect Miranda Brooks will consult on The Met Gala décor with Raul Avila, who has produced the décor since 2007.
A publication by Andrew Bolton will accompany the exhibition and feature a new short story by Michael Cunningham. Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novels Orlando and Mrs. Dalloway, the story will recount a day in the life of a woman while evoking a span of 150 years, a duration the reader understands through changes of clothes and circumstance. The publication will be designed by Joseph Logan, and will include new photography by Nicholas Alan Cope. It will be published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.
About The Met’s 150th Anniversary
In 2020, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its founding with a dynamic range of exhibitions, programs, and public events. Highlights of the year will include the exhibition Making The Met, 1870–2020, on view March 30–August 2; the opening of the newly renovated and reimagined galleries devoted to British decorative arts and design in March; the display of new gifts throughout the Museum; a three-day-long celebration in June; and a story-collecting initiative.