Camp: Notes on Fashion Gallery Views | Met Fashion


Andrew Bolton: The exhibition is called Camp:
Notes on Fashion, and it’s inspired by Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay “Notes on Camp” that,
in a way, outlined the elements or characteristics of camp: irony, humor, parody, theatricalization,
excess, extravagance, exaggeration. The first half of the exhibition does trace
the origins of camp. The introduction is a section called “The
Camp Beau Ideal.” It focuses on the figure of Antinous, Hadrian’s
lover, who has been embraced in the queer culture by artists like Robert Mapplethorpe. Each gallery has a hero or heroine. So it starts off with Louis XIV and his brother
Monsieur, a famous bisexual. I wanted to trace the etymological origins
of camp, and the first time it was mentioned, that we found, is “camp” as a verb, in a novel
by Molière, Scapin. Scapin talks about camping on one leg, like
a comedy king. So immediately it has connotations of theatricality
and performativity. Chevalier d’Eon was a spy able to infiltrate
the courts of Europe as a lady in waiting. In a way, he was a precursor to camp and its
relationship to crossdressing in the eighteenth century So we have a wonderful dress by Jean-Paul
Gaultier and it’s based on an eighteenth-century silhouette, but worn with a man’s suit from
the twentieth century. And so it’s a conflation of both masculine
and feminine dress codes. By the mid-nineteenth century, camp became
associated with the queer community. We look at the idea of camp as an adjective—”campy”
or “campish.” We’ve traced its first origin to the mid-nineteenth
century in a letter between Fanny and Stella. They were prosecuted on crossdressing. And the hero of another gallery is Oscar Wilde,
famous for his epigrams. And through his trials and the criminalization
of homosexuality in the late nineteenth century, he became a potent vehicle for camp as a noun,
as a person. And in that particular section, we have garments
inspired by Oscar’s wardrobe, both as an aesthete and also as a dandy. One of the first times that camp became associated
with a style was in 1954, through Christopher Isherwood’s The World in the Evening, where
he makes a demarcation between low camp—something located in the queer world—and high camp—meaning
baroque art, the ballet. In 1934, Paul Cadmus painted a man wearing
a very tailored, tight suit with a red tie and bleached-blonde hair—which were all
signifiers of queer culture in the early twentieth century—surrounded by sailors. Sailors being very much a sort of camp icon
in the queer community. So in the “Sontagian Camp” section, we are
selecting works of art from The Met’s collection to illustrate her ideas of camp. She highlights Crivelli, Caravaggio, Mannerist
painting; she highlights Tiffany lamps, art nouveau; in terms of fashion, she highlights
beaded dresses from the 1920s—all ideas of exaggeration and artifice. Susan wrote “Camp” as a response to the Pop
Art movement, particularly to Warhol. Warhol became obsessed by Susan after she
published “Camp,” and referred to her as “Miss Camp.” It catapulted her as a celebrity, so she became,
in a way, one of Andy Warhol’s superstars. One of the defining characteristics she talks
about in her essay is this idea of failed seriousness—too much, so to speak. Too fantastic, too extravagant. It’s just too, too, too. And she makes a distinction between “naïve
camp” and “deliberate camp.” Naïve camp, she’s finds much more rewarding
because it was unconscious, as opposed to deliberate camp, which was more self-conscious. We’re using the idea of failed seriousness
as a bridge to a section that is about posturing and about extravagant gesture. The second half of the exhibition, we’ve called
“Camp Eye,” focusing on examples of the camp aesthetic in fashion, post-Sontag’s essay. Each mannequin has a particular statement
that articulates a particular aspect of camp. Susan talks about how camp is a manifestation
of snob taste, how camp is the dandyism of mass culture Having one logo isn’t camp, but having a whole
suit completely emblazoned with logos is camp. We have a section called “The Psychopathology
of Affluence.” We have a Jeremy Scott that’s printed with
dollar bills. Historicism is very much a part of camp ideology. Notions of performativity are included in
a section on the ballet and the opera as vehicles of camp. We have Bjork’s famous dress that she wore
to the Academy Awards in the design of a swan, where the swan’s neck is literally wrapping
around her neck. We also have an opera coat, designed by Marc
Jacobs, that has a jacquard of the opera star Maria Callas. “Camp Is a Second Childhood.” The idea of a babydoll dress on a grown woman,
and indeed a grown man, is a camp statement. We have a section called “The Mode of Enjoyment”
that references the generosity behind camp. One example is a coat shaped like a love heart,
dyed red. And we have a dress that’s styled as a bouquet
of flowers. Camp is a gift that keeps on giving. Camp is for people who are heroes but didn’t
set out to be heroes. And for that statement, we have a floor-length
coat made out of faux fur, out of the rainbow flag, from Christopher Bailey’s last collection
for Burberry, which was a celebration of queer culture. “Gender with Genitals” looks at exaggerated
ideas of masculinity and femininity. We have a wonderful dress by Jean Paul Gaultier
that on the runway was worn, by Linda Evangelista, with a hairdryer that pumped air into her
garment to amplify her breasts and her buttocks. We also have a jacket by Walter Van Beirendonck
with inflatable muscles, this ridiculous he-man as a vehicle for the camp aesthetic. Part of that section is also the idea of “Gender
without Genitals,” which looks at younger designers, such as Palomo Spain, who are trying
to upend gender distinctions within dress to create nonbinary clothing. We have a wonderful bridegroom and bride in
one, a sort of Victor-Victoria reference by Thom Browne, where the front of it is a men’s
tuxedo and behind is a wedding dress. We have one category called “Things Being
What They’re Not,” which is a statement taken from Susan’s essay directly. A dress in the form of a wedding cake, by
Christian Lacroix. Camp is inherently subjective, and that’s
part of its power and part of its charm—the fact that it’s always changing. So you leave the exhibition still wondering
what camp is, and being encouraged to think about one’s own definition of camp. Camp is happiness. (multiple inaudible voices whisper the definition of camp) Camp is a mode of perception. (multiple inaudible voices whisper the definition of Camp) is by its very nature political. (multiple inaudible voices whisper the definition of Camp) Camp is alive, subversive. Camp is dandyism (multiple inaudible voices whisper the definition of Camp)

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