New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art this week unveiled its new exhibition PUNK: Chaos to Couture. Jean Hepburn attended its opening day, the night after The Met’s Costume Institute Gala, where many an A-lister were baffled as to how to get into the punk spirit.
When first hearing the Metropolitan Museum of Art reveal the title for its major summer exhibition of 2013, PUNK: Chaos to Couture, you could be forgiven for having some reservations. Punk, after all, is anti-organization and anti-establishment, so what did it have in common with the elitism of couture and the world’s largest museum, who’s annual Costume Institute Gala is about as un-punk as it gets?
Exactly where and how punk started is open to debate, but two late-70s hotspots, CBGB in New York and Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s Seditionaires boutique in London, certainly had a big hand in it all. The exhibition, which opened on May 9, starts things off with two excellent facsimile installations of these now non-existent spaces (CBGB is currently a John Varvatos boutique). CBGB is remembered by its toilets (apparently where all the action happened, according to Patti Smith) and the cross-section display of the Seditionaires boutique recalls every detail—down to a transistor blaring the Sex Pistols. What follows is a large collection of McLaren and Westwood T-shirts, including the very-familiar God Save the Queen T-shirt by Jamie Reid as well as some super intricate loose-knit mohair sweaters by Junya Watanabe and Rodarte (à la Johnny Rotten).
As you move though the five galleries, you are quickly schooled in punk’s influence: the safety-pins holding Gianni Versace’s dress together (think Liz Hurley); the fierce metal studs on a Givenchy jacket; neon graffiti splashed across a Dolce and Gabbana gown; and a John Galliano dress made with Scotch tape, raffia, and newspaper-printed silk dupioni. Each room demonstrates punk’s style signatures, breaking the discourse into categories of D.I.Y customization, hardware, bricolage, graffiti, and deconstruction. Maison Martin Margiela’s use of plastic bags, foil, adhesive, and porcelain plate shards is featured heavily in the bricolage gallery, while Rei Kawakubo, the undisputed queen of deconstruction, holds court in the final room, titled “D.I.Y Destroy.” The exhibition succeeds in demonstrating punk’s influence upon past and current designers, confirming that while punk only lasted 100 days according to The Clash frontman Mick Jones, its legacy lives on.
PUNK: From Chaos to Couture
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 5th Ave, New York, NY
By Jean Hepburn