TheMet150 Celebration: Costume Institute’s Spring 2020 Exhibition to Present a Disruptive Timeline of Fashion History

Costume Institute Benefit on May 4 with Co-Chairs Nicolas Ghesquière, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Emma Stone, Meryl Streep, and Anna Wintour

The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently announced that The Costume Institute’s Spring 2020 Exhibition will be About Time: Fashion and Duration, on view from May 7 through September 7, 2020 (preceded on May 4 by The Costume Institute Benefit). Presented in The Met Fifth Avenue’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, it will trace more than a century and a half of fashion, from 1870 to the present, along a disruptive timeline, as part of the Museum’s 150th anniversary celebration. Employing philosopher Henri Bergson’s concept of la durée—time that flows, accumulates, and is indivisible—the exhibition will explore how clothes generate temporal associations that conflate the past, present, and future. The concept will also be examined through the writings of Virginia Woolf, who will serve as the “ghost narrator” of the exhibition. Michael Cunningham, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Hours, which was inspired by Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, will write a new short story for the exhibition catalogue that reflects on the concept of duration.

Surreal, David Bailey (British, born 1938), 1980; Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photo © David Bailey

The exhibition will feature approximately 160 examples of women’s fashion dating from 1870—the year of The Met’s founding and the start of a decade that witnessed the development of a standardized time system—to the present. The majority of objects in the show will come from The Costume Institute’s collection, including gifts made as part of The Met’s 2020 Collections Initiative in celebration of the Museum’s 150th anniversary.

A linear chronology of fashion comprised predominantly of ensembles in black will run through the exhibition reflecting the progressive timescale of modernity, and bringing into focus the fast, fleeting rhythm of fashion. Unlike traditional chronologies, which reduce the history of fashion to a limited number of decade-defining silhouettes, this timeline will be presented as a ceaseless continuum that is more complete and comprehensive in scope. Interrupting this timeline will be a series of counter-chronologies composed of predominantly white ensembles that pre-date or post-date those in black, but relate to one another through shape, motif, material, pattern, technique, or decoration. For example, a black silk faille princess-line dress from the late 1870s will be paired with an Alexander McQueenBumster” skirt from 1995, and a black silk velvet bustle ensemble from the mid-1880s will be juxtaposed with a Comme des GarçonsBody Meets Dress – Dress Meets Body” dress from 1997.

The Clock, Sarah Moon (French, born 1941), 1999; Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photo © Sarah Moon

The exhibition will conclude with a section on the future of fashion, linking the concept of duration to debates about longevity and sustainability.

This exhibition will consider the ephemeral nature of fashion, employing flashbacks and fast-forwards to reveal how it can be both linear and cyclical,” said Max Hollein, Director of The Met. “As such, the show will present a nuanced continuum of fashion over the Museum’s 150-year history.”

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