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Camp: Notes on Fashion at The Met

Feathers, ruffles, sequins, velvet, mesh, and more feathers… after viewing countless outfits worn at the Met Gala, this is typically what one thinks of as Camp.  But after a trip to see Camp: Notes on Fashion at the Met, it’s clear that Camp is more than just excessive materials; the word “camp” functions as a verb, adjective, or noun, and it can be naive or deliberate, nostalgic or futuristic, ironic or sincere, but to put simply, it’s about having fun!  To be Camp is to not take yourself too seriously and to embrace the outrageous. In fashion, it allows for an unlimited creativity that produces fantastical, beautiful, and extravagant articles of clothing.

The Met exhibit is captivating from the start; Baroque paintings of Louis XIV are unusually hung on striking pink walls, creating an ultra luxurious and celebratory feel that filters through the entire exhibition.  These paintings reveal some of the earliest expressions of Camp, and they are perfectly juxtaposed with designs by Jean Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfeld, who were inspired by these lavish styles of dress. The initial pink walls set the mood for the rest of the exhibit, not only emphasizing extravagance, but also playfulness and irony.  

The playful and ironic aspects of Camp become evident once you are introduced to Susan Sontag’s famous interpretation of Camp, “Notes on ‘Camp’”, about midway through the exhibit.  Although Camp can be overwhelmingly pompous, it’s also a celebration of the ordinary, as Sontag declares that Camp “makes no distinction between the unique object and the mass produced object.  Camp taste transcends the nausea of the replica.” Some amusing examples of this includes a dress with Warhol’s famous Campell’s soup print and a Moschino gown with a print of a beer can.

While its foundation may have been in a luxury lifestyle reserved for the elite, Camp today, is an inclusive, embraceful style and way of thinking that seeks to celebrate and enjoy life.  Camp is to have fun and to be made fun of, but in a completely loving, good-natured manner. Camp is highly personal, which makes this costume exhibition so unique. It may be a verb, noun, or adjective, but at its core, Camp is a mindset; it’s Balenciaga crocs, or anything that gets everyone’s attention.

For Summer 2019, ArtMuse NY will offer group and private tours of Camp at The Met, led by Natasha Roberts. Check our blog weekly to keep up with arts & culture happenings in New York City and around the world.

Contributor Chloe Kantor