A LOT TO UNPACK: The wait is nearly over for the much-anticipated Oct. 29 opening of the “About Time: Fashion and Duration,” the latest exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.
Originally scheduled to bow in May, the show’s opening was postponed due to the pandemic.
Celebrating the museum’s 150th anniversary, the show explores 150 years of fashion history. To keep everything in order or to get a jump on what is in store, the show’s catalogue maps out the content. There is a timeline of objects, each paired with an alternate design jumping forward or backward in time. There is also black-and-white photography from Nicholas Alan Cope and a short story by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham that plays out a day in the life of a woman, which unfolds over 150 years.
An extra shot of espresso may be in order. Readers will also find scholar Theodore Martin’s analysis of the theoretical approaches to temporality.
Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu curator in charge of the Costume Institute, spelled out the Costume Institute’s marching orders in the catalogue. “Identifying and defining cultural trends and artistic developments at the point they are happening or are about to happen is the motivating factor behind all of our exhibitions, as are our efforts to relate these shifts to the broader context of fashion history and its evolution, interpreting them through an interdisciplinary approach ranging from politics, sociology and psychology to aesthetics, philosophy and literature. Fashion’s centrality to contemporary culture is becoming more and more apparent with the increasingly globalized, networked conditions of the 21st century.”
The Louis Vuitton-sponsored show will feature 120 outfits dating back to 1870, with 60 of them all in black and 60 in black and white. At a preview event in Paris in late February, Bolton indicated that “About Time” won’t be “a straightforward masterworks exhibition, a kind of simplistic overview of styles, or an expected A to Z of fashion designers.”
Bolton also noted how the juxtaposition of historical dress with contemporary fashion is one of The Costume Institute’s “most significant and enduring contributions to the critical practice of costume curation,” despite however widespread and commonplace that might now be.
Unpacking fashion through the test of time is multitiered. Quoting the British philosopher Peter Osborne, Bolton wrote, “Modernity is a culture of time.” Add capitalism and advances in industrialization, “‘modern time’ came to be defined as rational, regulated, measurable, and above all progressive. It created a culture that prized constant change and perpetual renewal above all else and fostered an ideology of transition and transformation and a consciousness of evanescence and impermanence.”