The Radical Art of Fashion: Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between at The Met

Body Meets Dress-Dress Meets Body, Spring-Summer 1997 (3)

Body Meets Dress-Dress Meets Body, Spring-Summer 1997 (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Spring 2017 exhibition, Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between, on view through September 4, examines Kawakubo’s fascination with the space between boundaries. And the reviews—both personal and professional—has been unanimously positive. It is, indeed, one of the best examples of fashion being art and art being fashion, without one diminishing the other in any way shape or form. 

White Drama, Spring-Summer 2012 (2b)

White Drama, Spring-Summer 2012. (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

Blood and Roses, Spring-Summer 2015 (7)

Blood and Roses, Spring-Summer 2015. (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

Blue Witch, Spring-Summer 2016

Blue Witch, Spring/Summer 2016. (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

Clustering Beauty, Spring-Summer 1998 (1)

Clustering Beauty, Spring-Summer 1998. (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

18th Century Punk, Autumn-Winter 2016-17 (2)

18th Century Punk, Autumn-Winter 2016-17. (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

A thematic exhibition, rather than a traditional retrospective, this is The Costume Institute’s first monographic show on a living designer since the Yves Saint Laurent exhibition in 1983.

Abstract Excellence, Spring-Summer 2004

Abstract Excellence, Spring-Summer 2004 (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

Bad Trash, Autumn-Winter 2008-2009 (3)

Bad Trash, Autumn-Winter 2008-2009 (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

Ballerina Motobike, Spring-Summer 2005

Ballerina Motobike, Spring-Summer 2005 (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

Body Meets Dress-Dress Meets Body, Spring-Summer 2017

Body Meets Dress-Dress Meets Body, Spring-Summer 2017 (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

Ceremony of Separation, Autumn-winter 2015-16 (1)

Ceremony of Separation, Autumn-winter 2015-16. (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

Crush, Spring-Summer 2013 (1)

Crush, Spring-Summer 2013. (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

Francesca Granata of The Atlantic wrote the following: 

The designer has long been alternately hailed as an innovator and demonized for creating aggressively unattractive clothing that is out-of-step with its time. From cocoon dresses with no waistline to sweaters full of holes to oddly shaped dresses, Kawakubo has been responsible for radical reconsiderations of the silhouette through experimental pattern-making, draping, knotting, and eventually the use of padding. This sense of out-of-step–ness is evident in the Costume Institute’s spring show. Rei Kawakubo / Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between is a cerebral exhibition, serving as a surprisingly timely reminder of the need to embrace bodily differences and vulnerabilities.

07.18thCenturyPunk,Autumn2016

Rei Kawakubo (Japanese, born 1942) for Comme des Garçons (Japanese, founded 1969), 18th-Century Punk, autumn/winter 2016–17; Courtesy of Comme des Garçons. Photograph by © Paolo Roversi; Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

She further went to write, “Throughout the Met show, we see an unapologetically rebellious artist undercutting prevailing mores. A few years ago, the Costume Institute presented a controversial (and poorly understood) show on punk rock in fashion. Though her designs weren’t exactly prevalent in CBGB, Kawakubo (whose garments were included in that exhibit) is in some ways the true inheritor of that mantle, her work constantly pushing back on the grandeur around her.”

Roberta Smith, Chief Art Critic of The New York Times, calls it “a magnificent, challenging show”, further adding in a rave review, “Every year, the Costume Institute makes a different case for art in fashion and for fashion as art, usually in an immersive context and with impressive results. The Kawakubo show takes this argument into radical terrain. It doesn’t focus on art within fashion as did the recent show featuring Charles James’s sinuously sculptural ball gowns, which were functioning garments. Rather, its center is a staggering panoply of mostly quasi-wearable three-dimensional forms that are a kind of hybrid, an art of “the in-between,” driven by Ms. Kawakubo’s insatiable quest for originality, or as she prefers to call it, “newness.” The result is an inspirational show that places Ms. Kawakubo at the forefront of several modernisms — in art and design, Europe and Asia — upending notions of style and gender, conflating past and present and constantly pressing forward with fresh ideas about form, process and meaning.”

Ms. Kawakubo regards her fashions and their environments as a Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art.” This synthesis is reflected in the exhibition, designed as a complete expression of the Comme des Garçons “universe.” It is intended to be a holistic, immersive experience, facilitating a personal engagement with the fashions on display. A pathway is suggested by the numbers in an exhibit booklet, beginning with these red ensembles that reflect Kawakubo’s enduring preoccupation with blurring the boundaries between body and dress. Visitors are encouraged, however, to forge their own paths and experience the exhibition as a voyage of discovery.

Cubisme, Spring-Summer 2007 (4)

Cubisme, Spring-Summer 2007 (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

Cubisme, Spring-Summer 2007

Cubisme, Spring-Summer 2007 (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

Holes, Autumn-Winter 1982-83

Holes, Autumn-Winter 1982-83 (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

Inside Decoration, Autumn-Winter 2010-11 (2B)

Inside Decoration, Autumn-Winter 2010-11(All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

Lost Empire, Spring-Summer 2006 (3)

Lost Empire, Spring-Summer 2006. (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

Not Making Clothes, Spring-Summer 2014

Not Making Clothes, Spring-Summer 2014. (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017 )

The Future of Silhouette, Autumn-Winter 2017-18

The Future of Silhouette, Autumn-Winter 2017-18. (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017)

The Infinity of Tailoring, autumn-Winter 2013-14 (3)

The Infinity of Tailoring, autumn-Winter 2013-14. (All Images, unless specified otherwise, courtesy of Fashion+lifestyle 2017)

The exhibition features approximately 140 examples of Kawakubo’s womenswear designs for Comme des Garçons, dating from the early 1980s to her most recent collection. Objects are organized into nine dominant and recurring aesthetic expressions of interstitiality in Kawakubo’s work: Absence/Presence, Design/Not Design, Fashion/AntiFashion, Model/Multiple, High/Low, Then/Now, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/ Not Clothes. Continue reading