Earlier this week, after asking the security guard, ‘Is this it?’ – for the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibit ‘Punk: Chaos to Couture’ – he nodded yes. At that moment, the much hyped exhibition swelled like a freshly bruised wound. Not one to truly care what celebrities are wearing, because, let’s face it, the stylists deserve all the credit, the Met Gala fodder prior to the exhibit’s opening proved to be somewhat more interesting but not by much – the only difference was they (celebrity attendees) had a pulse but the exhibit did not.
The title wall above, already set the stage for something that was going to be a bit ‘off’, with it’s pristine white walls + two mannequins wearing ridiculous faux fur spiky afros (a consistent error throughout the exhibit), looking like guards at the gate. You are then snapped back into reality with a recreation of the bathroom inside the punk church CBGB minus the
beer + urine smells + blood stains (joke or not, this would’ve been a great opportunity for them to try out their smell-o-vision, with little potency to heighten the experience but not offend). I then moved into the first part of the exhibit which first installed a recreation of Vivienne Westwood + Malcolm Maclaren’s store ‘SEX’, at 30 Kings Road, London, which,
remained true to the punk esthetic of ‘anti-establishment’ by selling imperfect tees + knits + other, with not only politically + sexually charged imagery, like Vivienne Westwood’s ‘Seditionairies’ series (1976 – 1980) (see below) but also lots of pieces inspired by bondage.
The tee was definitely a staple of the punk uniform that often included a leather jacket + ripped jeans. Funny how the tee shirt in American culture commonly serves as a billboard whereas the punks used them in the same fashion, but also made detritus or tee’s demise as part of the esthetic, without even trying. Yet, even if you were a punk + could not afford certain items, you did what any respecting style conscious individual would do but create it themselves. For me, poverty was the mother of my invention + the same held true for punks, which sets the stage for the remaining last four installments.
The first, ‘DIY: Hardware’, dealt with the exploitation of bondage + hardware, with the presence of zippers, staples + safety pins. One look that stood out for me was Zandra Rhodes’ wedding dress with gold safety pins, one of the first designers to appropriate punk to high fashion.
The second, ‘DIY: Bricolage’, dealt with the recycling of materials + at times trash, as witnessed by the Prada ‘Bottle Caps Shirt’ SS/07 + Hussein Chalayan’s ‘Tyvek Dress’ (below)
The third, called ‘DIY: Graffiti + Agitprop’, showcased items that were emblazoned with graffiti, like Stephen Sprouse + my favorite, Ann Demeulemeester’s dress from SS/00 bearing black seed text with the line from Patti Smith’s ‘Woolgathering’, ‘I DID TURN TO WAVE AS I RAN AND HIS OPEN EYES CAUGHT MINE’, below the waist (see below).
Finally, the last installment, ‘DIY: Destroy’, was full of holes, holes, holes +more holes, like this sweater by Rei Kawakubo for COMME des GARÇONS (CDG) 1982.
(photo: Peter Lindbergh)
Yet what was even more impressive was the row of mannequins down the middle of the room wearing CDG with their heads covered in wrapped
plastic, a feature they should have adopted throughout – the weirdo fros on the majority of the mannequins skewed my view as they didn’t match with the look they were wearing. Sadder even, was hearing classical music in this room as a trite juxtaposition to punk.
I then made my way to the adjacent small gift shop with pathetic offerings such as hot pink + checkered duct tape – Really? Overall, this exhibit, although it could have gone in many more interesting directions, with so many interesting designers in tow, it left me flat + now, I need closure – Maybe I’ll rent ‘D.O.A: A Rite Of Passage’, a documentary on the origin of punk rock, with rare footage of Sid Vicious + his girlfriend, Nancy Spungeon (a must watch), showing real chaos the Met had problems harnessing for this exhibit.