This morning, I met Andrew at the Met to see the Costume Institute's "Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy Exhibit." I love going to see the shows that the Costume Institute - which is part of the Met and has an extensive collection of historic outfits, famous costumes, and notable couture - puts together because they have this great "Met" feel to them, as if you really are seeing an art exhibit, but they are centered around fashion. Recently, they've had some great exhibits, including "Blog:Mode," which featured technologically-inspired couture and encouraged audience pariticipation through a blog station; a collection of the Socialite Nan Kempner's clothes, which she donated to the Met upon her death (could this be considered a Retrospective?); and "Poiret: King of Fashion," which featured the early 20th-century designs of Paul Poiret.
"Superheroes" definitely had a different feel from the aforementioned exhibits. This was no Chanel Retrospective. (It also didn't take place in the Costume Institute's galleries, but instead, on the main floor off of the Greek and Roman Galleries). It was loud, flashy, and exciting. One might have expected that, from a show about Superheroes, but for some reason I didn't picture it quite as bright white and mirrored as it was. Overall, I thought it was a fantastic exhibit, with broad commercial appeal that hopefully will open more people up to the interesting things that the Costume Institute does. There were all sorts of characters in the exhibit - from little kids pretending to be Batman to older tourists wondering when they had left Ancient Greece and entered a comic book.
Since I'm hoping to go into Art Education, I'm always aware of the effectiveness of exhibitions' wall text and labels. Some museums tend to be minimalist in helping to educate a viewer about an exhibit, allowing them to interpret for themselves, while others are extremely enthusiastic and overload the viewer with information. I thought this exhibit did a great job of finding an intelligent balance. There was a brief introductory essay about the importance of Superheroes as they relate to our goals and values as humans and as a nation, and from there, the exhibit was split into eight displays, each with one accompanying wall text.
The essays were short enough that they didn't lose your interest, and well-written enough that you felt engaged with the ideas of the curators. After the introductory essay presented a broader view of the superhero within our culture, the themed essays looked at the outfits. Sections like "The Mutant Body," "The Graphic Body," "The Aerodynamic Body," and "The Armored Body," explored the different superheroes whose outfits fell into the category, and then attempted to summarize the creator's and viewer's perspectives on that superhero as it relates to their outfit. Each section contained (usually) one costume from a film (for example, they had Christopher Reeve's costume from Superman in the "Graphic" section, and Michelle Pfieffer's Catwoman outfit in the "Paradoxical Body" section), as well as numerous couture ensembles from designers such as Balenciaga, Dolce and Gabbana, Pierre Cardin, and John Galiano.
I would highly recommend this show really for anyone. Seeing the actual costume that Wonder Woman wore is very cool, and so is seeing the designer outfits, each one more bizarre than the last. I don't even know if I can choose a favorite. Probably the "Paradoxical Body," (aka Catwoman) section. The curators did a great job at chronologically tracing the development of Superheroes (they've gone as up to date as "The Postmodern Body" and have included Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man costume in the "Armored" section) while at the same time pulling out themes and breaking down sections clearly. The couture choices are really smart and really fun to see, whether you enjoy high fashion or not. Another great exhibit from the Met!
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