“Many things in the world have not been named; and many things, even if they have been named, have never been described,” Susan Sontag wrote in her 1964 essay, Notes on “Camp”. “One of these is the sensibility — unmistakably modern, a variant of sophistication but hardly identical with it — that goes by the cult name of ‘Camp.'”
Sontag’s seminal essay, which will be familiar to anyone who has passed through a tertiary arts faculty, provides the framework for The Metropolitan Museum of Art and its Costume Institute’s Spring 2019 exhibition Camp: Notes on Fashion, on view from May 9 through September 8, 2019. The exhibition will be preceded, as always, by The Costume Institute Benefit, also known as the Met Gala, on Monday May 6. The evening’s co-chairs will be Lady Gaga, Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele, Harry Styles, Serena Williams, and Anna Wintour.
Announced this morning, Notes on Fashion will “explore the origins of the camp aesthetic and how it has evolved from a place of marginality to become an important influence on mainstream culture”. Its timing, of course, is perfect considering the defining moment in culture. Not to be mistaken with gaudiness or flamboyance, the essence of Camp, Sontag wrote, “is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration. And Camp is esoteric – something of a private code, a badge of identity even, among small urban cliques.
“It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon” she continues; and later, it is “a vision of the world in terms of style – but a particular kind of style. It is the love of the exaggerated, the ‘off,’ of things-being-what-they-are-not.”
The exhibition will then examine how fashion designers have engaged with camp in a myriad of ways. According to the Met, the exhibition will feature approximately 175 objects, including womenswear and menswear, as well as sculptures, paintings, and drawings dating from the 17th century to the present. It’s extremely fitting that the exhibition has been made possible by Gucci, and that the first promotional images feature a look from Off-White’s pre-Fall 2018 collection (“Camp sees everything in quotation marks”, wrote Sontag).
“Camp’s disruptive nature and subversion of modern aesthetic values has often been trivialised, but this exhibition will reveal its profound influence on both high art and popular culture,” said Max Hollein, Director of The Met. “By tracing its evolution and highlighting its defining elements, the show will embody the ironic sensibilities of this audacious style, challenge conventional understandings of beauty and taste, and establish the critical role this important genre has played in the history of art and fashion.”
“Fashion is the most overt and enduring conduit of the camp aesthetic,” added Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute. “Effectively illustrating Sontag’s Notes on ‘Camp,’ the exhibition will advance creative and critical dialogue about the ongoing and ever-evolving impact of camp on fashion.”
Tile and cover image: Courtesy of Gucci