NEW YORK CITY – The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute spring 2017 exhibition, Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between, on view from May 4 through September 4, examines Kawakubo’s fascination with interstitiality, or the space between boundaries. In Kawakubo’s work, this in-between space is revealed as an aesthetic sensibility, establishing an unsettling zone of oscillating visual ambiguity that challenges conventional notions of beauty, good taste, and fashionability. 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.
“In blurring the art/fashion divide, Kawakubo asks us to think differently about clothing,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director of The Met. “Curator Andrew Bolton explores work that often looks like sculpture in an exhibition that challenges our ideas about fashion’s role in contemporary culture.”
In celebration of the opening, The Met’s Costume Institute Benefit, also known as The Met Gala, took place on Monday, May 1, 2017. The evening’s co-chairs are Tom Brady, Gisele Bündchen, Katy Perry, Pharrell Williams, and Anna Wintour. Rei Kawakubo and Ambassador Caroline Kennedy will serve as Honorary Chairs. The event is The Costume Institute’s main source of annual funding for exhibitions, publications, acquisitions, and capital improvements.
“Rei Kawakubo is one of the most important and influential designers of the past 40 years,” said Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute. “By inviting us to rethink fashion as a site of constant creation, recreation, and hybridity, she has defined the aesthetics of our time.”
Rei Kawakubo said, “I have always pursued a new way of thinking about design…by denying established values, conventions, and what is generally accepted as the norm. And the modes of expression that have always been most important to me are fusion…imbalance… unfinished… elimination…and absence of intent.”
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/Anti-Fashion, Model/Multiple, High/Low, Then/Now, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/Not Clothes. Kawakubo breaks down the imaginary walls between these dualisms, exposing their artificiality and arbitrariness. Her fashions demonstrate that interstices are places of meaningful connection and coexistence as well as revolutionary innovation and transformation, providing Kawakubo with endless possibilities to rethink the female body and feminine identity.
adobo magazine President Angel Guerrero at the Rei Kawakubo exhibition in May 2017
The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, on The Met Fifth Avenue’s second floor, has been transformed into an open, brightly lit white box with geometric structures. Intended to be a holistic, immersive experience, the space facilitates engagement with the fashions on display. A suggested pathway begins with four ensembles enclosed in a cylinder, reflecting Kawakubo’s enduring interest in blurring the boundaries between body and dress. Visitors, however, are encouraged to forge their own paths and experience the exhibition as a voyage of discovery.
The spare space has no text on the walls—instead, at the entrance, visitors receive an exhibition guide with gallery text and object labels.
The exhibition is curated by Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute, who collaborated on the exhibition design with Rei Kawakubo. Lighting for the exhibition is created by Thierry Dreyfus @ Eyesight Group. Heads and wigs are created and styled by Julien d’Ys. The design for the 2017 Costume Institute Benefit is created by Raul Avila, who has produced the Benefit décor since 2007.
Special thanks to Apple, Condé Nast, Farfetch, H&M, Maison Valentino, and Warner Bros. for their support of the exhibition and benefit.
A publication, Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between, authored by Andrew Bolton with creative direction and design by Fabien Baron and Yuki Iwashiro of Baron & Baron, accompanies the exhibition. It features new photography by Nicholas Alan Cope, Inez and Vinoodh, Katerina Jebb, Kazumi Kurigami, Ari Marcopoulos, Craig McDean, Brigitte Niedermair, Paolo Roversi, and Collier Schorr. A rare interview with Rei Kawakubo and a chronology of her career, amplified with quotes from the designer, provide additional insight into her aesthetic and career. Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, the 248-page hardcover book has 205 color illustrations and comes in a slipcase with a pullout poster of a Paolo Roversi photograph that was shot for the publication. It retails for $50.
The work of Kawakubo will be explored in relation to other creative practices from a range of perspectives in a Sunday at The Met program on June 18 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. The event, in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, is free with Museum admission. A special Teen Summer Studio, July 17–21, invites teens to create pieces inspired by the exhibition. For details, visit metmuseum.org/teens.