LIKE A PRAYER: Some scholars and pundits contest that religion is the root of most of the conflict in the world, but that hasn’t deterred the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute from taking on “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” as its spring exhibition.
The juxtaposition of fashion and masterworks of religious art will be designed to examine fashion’s ongoing engagement with the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism. The Met has arranged to showcase a group of papal robes and accessories from the Vatican, highlighting the enduring influence of liturgical vestments on designers. A battery of designers — Thierry Mugler, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Thom Browne, Azzedine Alaïa, John Galliano for the House of Dior, Claire McCardell, Madeleine Vionnet, Isabel Toledo, Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino, Elsa Schiaparelli, Raf Simons for his own label and the House of Dior — will have their work on view.
The multilayered exhibition will be held at The Met Fifth Avenue in both the medieval galleries and the Anna Wintour Costume Center. The show will also be housed in the city’s northern regions at The Met Cloisters, creating a trio of distinct gallery locations. When the show opens, Met ticket holders will wander amid 50 ecclesiastical masterworks from the Sistine Chapel sacristy, many of which will be shown outside the Vatican for the first time. These works will be showcased along with papal vestments, rings, tiaras and accessories from more than 15 papacies in the Anna Wintour Costume Center galleries. That area alone will highlight work from the 18th to the early 21st century. The Vatican has not made a loan of this scope to The Met since its Vatican Collections exhibition, which ranks third as the Met’s most-visited show.
Driving traffic in the museum and online is paramount for all museums, the Met notwithstanding. Bolton has a strong track record, thanks to robust turnout for “China Through the Looking glass,” “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” and “Alexander McQueen; Savage Beauty.” With an operating budget of $315 million, an endowment of $3.1 billion and a staff of 2,200 working at the Fifth Avenue museum the Cloisters and the Met Breuer, the Met is on the hunt for a new director to succeed Thomas P. Campbell. His departure came amid questions about the museum’s financial spending. The museum recently announced that executive research firm Phillips Oppenheim is on the case scouting a successor.
Mostly women’s wear will comprise the 150 or so ensembles from the early 20th century to the present that will be shown in the medieval galleries and The Met Cloisters with religious art from The Met collection. The combination is meant to provide an interpretative context for fashion’s engagement with Catholicism. The designs are meant to be considered within the broader context of religious artistic production to analyze their connection to the historiography of material Christianity and their contribution to the perceptual construction of the Catholic imagination, according to press material provided by the Met. Pope Benedict XVI was nicknamed the “Prada Pope,” due to the red leather loafers he favored that were custom-made by a cobbler. His Argentine successor is known to live more frugally, preferring to live in the Vatican guesthouse, and traveling in a compact car or even a bus at times.
Blackstone founder Stephen A. Schwarzman and his wife Christine, and Versace are making the exhibition possible. Condé Nast is offering additional support. The Schwarzmans’ generosity has benefitted the Archdiocese of New York having helped to welcome Pope Francis to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, during his October 2015 visit to New York. The couple also provided a record-setting founding gift of $40 million to the archdiocese to establish the Inner-City Scholarship Fund’s $125 million “Kids Are Our Capital” endowment campaign. As for what the Archdiocese of New York makes of the theme of the Met’s next show, a request for comment did not receive an immediate response.