It could be argued that no other fashion-minded person has the reach that Andrew Bolton has, not only in engaging the world at large but in sparking conversation about how it is defined.
As the Wendy Yu curator in charge of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bolton has used multilayered fashion exhibitions to delve into technology, automation, identity, cultural context, Catholicism and camp (as in kitsch, not pop-up tents and pine trees).
He is being saluted with the Founder’s Award in honor of Eleanor Lambert by the CFDA.
Open-mindedness, engagement and ingenuity have been integral to his 20-year tenure at the museum. Without question, the massive media frenzy — both social and traditional — around the celebrity-studded Met Gala each year has forced the unwaveringly modest Bolton into a brighter spotlight. More often than not, though, his instinctive tendency is to shift conversations to the subject at hand — and usually The Met’s exhibitions have myriad in play.
“Fashion is the only art form that can respond so quickly and so directly to the times in which we’re living because of the ephemerality of fashion. Sometimes it’s done more deliberately in response to what’s going on and other times it’s more subtle and tapping into the collective consciousness,” Bolton said in an interview with WWD earlier this year.
He has also been a real ringleader for The Met in terms of getting millions of people up its marble stairs and through the main entrance on Fifth Avenue. A few of the Costume Institute exhibitions that he has curated are among the museum’s most visited. With more than 1.6 million visitors, the 2018 exhibition “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” ranks first, followed by the 1978 “Treasures of Tutankhamun” with 1.36 million visitors.
Affable and scholarly, the British-born curator earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in non-Western art from the University of East Anglia. Before crossing the pond to join The Met in 2002, he worked at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for nine years. At The Met, there is a lot to draw from, given the Costume Institute’s 33,000-piece plus collection that spans seven centuries. His exhibition repertoire at The Met includes such crowd-pleasers as “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” in 2011, “China: Through the Looking Glass” in 2015 and “Manus vs. Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” in 2016. Along the way, Bolton has written 16 books and continues to lecture and contribute to other publications.
However encyclopedic his knowledge and complex his curations, Bolton has cultivated an all-are-welcome multimedia approach to museum-goers and contributors alike. He has enlisted such talents as music aficionado Brian Eno, filmmaker Wong Kar-wai and OMA architect Sho Shigematsu in different capacities. For “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” which wrapped up in September, nine leading directors including Martin Scorsese, Chloé Zhao, Janicza Bravo, Tom Ford and Regina King were enlisted to create cinematic vignettes in the American period rooms.
That was the second part of a yearlong exhibition that was designed to create “a living exhibition that could respond to not just conversations and the current debates within fashion, but broader ones culturally,” Bolton explained several months ago.
There will be more Bolton-prompted conversations to come, given that the Costume Institute’s “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” is set to bow this spring and his partner Thom Browne will take on the CFDA’s chairman role at the start of the new year.