[Reviews are written from the particular perspective of a costume crafts artisan, and thus focus largely on technical and aesthetic aspects of costume craft items and properties.]
It's been a while since i've posted--my contract ended at Utah Shakes and I've had to make my way back easterly (by way of a quick dogleg over to Las Vegas) and get resettled back into life out here in North Carolina. While in Vegas i got to go see Cirque de Soleil's Ka
, and a review of that is forthcoming, as soon as i figure out exactly how to handle posting imagery from the show without, you know, getting my trou sued off. Expect to read that within the week, since i don't start back up at the theatre for another week.
But, I open with a digression. The point was to write about Anglo-Mania, the mind-blowingly brilliantly-composed exhibit
which the Costume Institute has running at the Met through September 4, 2006.
I had heard about this exhibit from some friends who'd been to see it (rave reviews) and had the good fortune to be in New York this past weekend (strictly unprofessional reasons--i was there to see Lucero
play a booze-cruise show on a sail around Manhattan), so i had to go check it out.
The Met in and of itself is always just a little overwhelming to me--I know I could spend a whole week in there and still not see everything. I remember as a kid loving that E. L. Konigsburg novel, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
, and fantasizing about running away like those kids in that book and living in the Met. Just know that i am forcing myself to stay on-topic here, and write only about this Costume Institute exhibit, and not the 293874234 other things that are mind-blowingly excellent at the Met (such as the staggering Kara Walker exhibit, "Deluge,"
, which closed yesterday).
From the intro paragraph emblazoned on the wall outside the exhibit: Through the lens of fashion, "AngloMania" examines aspects of English culture that have fueled the European and American imagination, such as class, sport, royalty, pageantry, eccentricity, the English gentleman, and the English country garden. [...] Traditionally, the presentation of costume in period rooms follows strict formal and chronological guidelines. "AngloMania" upends and disrupts these guidelines, merging the old with the new, sometimes in a single outfit, to reveal a conceptual continuum of ideas of Englishness.
As you approach the galleries where AngloMania is installed, you see a large archway, flanked by mannequins cast in a milky-translucent resin. These mannequins are cartoonishly punk--enormous technicolor mohawks and gafftape and torn Union Jacks and clompy Doc Martens. I admit, i got my snob on right off the bat, being overly critical of the admittedly-poor distressing job on the clearly-brand-new gently-scuffed boots...but, that was quickly dispelled by the very first installation: a mannequin, his safety-orange rocker-wig dunked in acrylic medium and sculpted to look like he was standing in a high wind, staring into a gilt ornamentally-framed 17th-century mirror. The mannequin was clad in a frock coat of David Bowie's, made from Union Jack fabric, distressed with burns and rips and in one place something that...well, appeared to be ejaculate. I set off the alarm accidentally by energetically pointing out this particular stain to my companion. Oops.
The second room is the English Garden, which is in fact a delapidated, poorly-lit grim parlor hung with swags of rotted-looking curtains across windows behind which is projected the looped film and sounds of a drenching rainstorm. The models in this room were all female mannequins in 18th-century mantuas and robes a l'anglaise
made from Spitalfields silk brocades. The women wear on their heads Philip Treacy hats shaped and dyed to look like enormous vaginal-shaped orchid blossoms. They are all posed as if they are listlessly wandering around a central figure, clad in a tulle dress by Hussein Chalayan, created by the attachment of thousands of tulle rosettes to a conical-shaped understructure and then trimmed and shaped like a topiary.
I was remarking to my friend that the garden room reminded me of the general production-design aesthetic deployed in The Libertine
(you know, the grim Rochester costume-drama in which Johnny Depp's nose rots off), when we entered the next room, entitled "Upstairs/Downstairs"--servant figures juxtaposed with nobility figures--and there on the wall was the original famous portrait of the Earl of Rochester himself, with his capering monkey. Ha! The two "maids" were clad in Chalayan ensembles that looked to be remade/cobbled-together vintage collage-dresses, while the two nobles wore a silk velvet and marquesite court suit and a satin and voided-velvet Worth gown trimmed in ostrich feathers and rhinestones. A manservant stood by in 19th-c. livery, which of course looks like extremely absurd and overtrimmed 18th-c. menswear.
The next room was called "The Hunt," and featured hunting- and riding-inspired ensembles on mannequins astride horse-mannequins, accompanied by dog-mannequins. I have to say, this room was somewhat boring compared to everything else, the only truly remarkable piece being a dusty-purple gown loosely based on a riding habit by Vivian Westwood. The fabric was woven so that it alternated matte and shiny satin stripes, and the entire skirt was caught up in the front to show the wearer's legs as she sat sidesaddle. A guy-mannequin in newsprint-screened stretchpants and a Galliano jockstrap was somewhat amusing as well.
Through an archway and into the next room, we were metaphorically punched in the teeth by the display entitled "The Deathbed." In this room a male mannequin lay in an enormous ornately-canopied 17th-c. bed, clad in a red tartan ensemble and something resembling a gimp-mask with an enormous cast-aluminum "jawbone" along the lower portion of it. A death-figure stood at the foot of the bed in a black glitter-encrusted stiff canvas gown, her torso encased in a cast-aluminum item described in the program as "Spine Corset." And yep, that's pretty much what it was--rib-like spidery bone-limbs that encircled her torso with an enormous vertebral spine running up the back, all brightly shining metal. Oh, and a pair of Manolo Blahniks. Two mannequins were positioned as "mourners," one in a black silk gown of Queen Victoria's and the other in a mesh and taffeta distressed crazy Alexander McQueen creation.
To either side of this room were tiny alcoves which together formed an installation called "Empire and Monarchy," both containing single mannequins wearing Vivian Westwood gowns--one inspired by a painting of Queen Elizabeth I and the other by a photograph of Queen Elizabeth II. The most interesting thing about these was the silver-wire choker on the QEI mannequin, which had set into it instead of oblong jewels these glass vials full of dubious-looking liquid. A perusal of the info card revealed that the necklace contained urine and semen.
Then another single-mannequin pair of installations entitled "Francomania," the first of which ("Tradition") contained a mannequin in that iconic Worth dress of white silk satin with the black silk voided velvet patterned like some kind of wrought-iron fencework. The other part of this section, "Transgression," was somehow even more holy-crappish than the "Deathbed" tableau. It featured a single female mannequin in an enormously-trained and -bustled black silk taffeta Galliano/Dior gown, clearly patterned after mourning dresses with all the ruched ribbon applique and the like. The mannequin's hand was outstretched and a huge crow perched on her arm. On her head was a black feathered hood completely covering her face, with a thin beak hooking out from it like some kind of Punchinello nose. She was surrounded by antique porcelain figurines of birds, and from behind the false windows came the raucous sounds of a murder of crows cawing.
The next room was an enormous space entitled "The Gentleman's Club." It was divided into two parts: "Tradition: The Gentleman" and "Transgression: The Dandy and the Punk." These were all mishmashed together such that you had a few clusters of men in worsted suits posing around humidors and valet cases and the like, right beside a trainwreck of mohawked punks in smoking jackets and those McLaren t-shirts with the gay cowboys and the defaced Queen and the like. The mannequins' mohawks were made from all kinds of strange objects: tampons and cigarettes and Barbie legs arranged on felt bases in fin shapes. The best part about this room was the juxtaposition of a white-tie evening suit formerly belonging to the Duke of Windsor, beside a torn plaid coat once owned by Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols.
The final room was called "The Hunt Ball," in which mannequins appeared to be waltzing together, the men in 1970s hunting ensembles and the women in modern haute couture
gowns based on late 19th-c. silhouettes--silk satins and brocades and froths of striped organdies, bustles and petticoats, Galliano and Westwood and McQueen, with ladies tricornes by Stephen Jones and uncredited but artfully-done enormous Madame de Pompadour-style wigs in cotton-candy colors.
Giddy from the prospect of poor stitchers and cutters dealing with all that stripe-matching on the skirt panels of the gowns, we sailed through the double doors into...some random room full of dishes and crap and a sign that said High Tea was available in the cafe for those wishing to prolong their AngloMania experience. This, i think, was my main criticism of the exhibit in fact--for something so creatively conceived and put-together and executed, so clearly artistically planned, not much thought was lent to the egress. No warning, no enormous over-the-top here's-the-end summary piece de resistance
. It was like being at a completely-nuts stage-diving beer-throwing mosh-pit of a rock show, and right as the band is really getting going on a roll of awesome songs and energy and danger, someone cuts off all the sound and says, "Ok folks, that's it, clear out."
All in all, though, if you can possibly get to NYC to see this exhibit, do so. The hats and wigs alone would be worth it, but all blendered together in this rich soupy goulash of OMG, it'd be a bargain at twice-admission.