The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute is celebrating Rei Kawakubo this year, with an exhibit that kicked off earlier this week at the Met Gala. Starting Thursday May 4th, the designer's works of fashion art will be on display for public viewing through September 4th.
Housed in the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, the presentation is more on the minimal than previous shows, with bare white walls that help make the pieces pop. As a whole, the exhibit serves as a thematic exhibition examining "Kawakubo’s fascination with interstitiality... this in-between space is revealed as an aesthetic sensibility, establishing an unsettling zone of oscillating visual ambiguity that challenges conventional notions of beauty, good taste, and fashionability." It is the Costume Institute’s first monographic show on a living designer since 1983, when they celebrated Yves Saint Laurent.
"Rei Kawakubo is one of the most important and influential designers of the past 40 years," said Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute. "By inviting us to rethink fashion as a site of constant creation, recreation, and hybridity, she has defined the aesthetics of our time."
Kawakubo and her translator Albert Joffe recently spoke to the NY Times about the exhibit and her work:
“Punk is very important,” she said. “The spirit of punk is being against the establishment. That’s how you can start from zero to make something new — you don’t accept the existing order of things.”
I pointed out that she was currently enshrined in the temple of the establishment, the Met.
“The fact of being here is rebellious,” Mr. Joffe said. “The fact of her being here is punk enough. Of course there’s going to be people saying we sold out, why are we on the cover of Vogue? But it’s not the point.” Ms. Kawakubo nodded.
“Really, if everyone came and saw the beauty of it and tried it on and felt amazing, that’s the end. If everybody thought it was beautiful, it would be time for Rei to stop. The times we’ve had standing ovations, when absolutely everybody loved the show, were the times she has worried the most.”
All in all you'll see 140 examples of Kawakubo’s designs for Comme des Garçons, which will take you from the 1980s to present day. The pieces were organized by recurring aesthetic expressions of interstitiality: Absence/Presence, Design/Not Design, Fashion/Anti-Fashion, Model/Multiple, High/Low, Then/Now, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/Not Clothes.
Be sure to grab an exhibition guide on your way in, because the walls were left stripped of any labels. You may also want to be prepared for long lines—before the museum expanded hours, the Costume Institute's Alexander McQueen exhibit saw visitors lining up for hours.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is located at 1000 5th Avenue; check metmuseum.org for daily hours.