If you pay any attention at all to the annual Met Gala, you know that the show it celebrated this year is entitled Camp: Notes on Fashion (May 9-September 8, 2019).
The exhibition takes Susan Sontag's seminal 1964 essay “Notes on Camp” as its foundation, drawing on over 250 objects from the 17th century through the present in an ambitious effort to visually define camp — that thing you can't define, but know when you see it.
It's a perilous undertaking! I remember seeing my beloved Debbie Harry and John Waters on a talk show more than 20 years ago attempting to illustrate camp, and the best Debbie could come up with was her shoes. It ... left a mark on me.
Thankfully, as famous quotes about camp read by Rupert Everett are pumped in overhead — some insightful (“Camp is a holiday for consenting adults”, some not “Camp is ... Josephine Baker”) — Camp: Notes on Fashion, draped in Pride-rainbow colors, unfolds like a smile, touching on camp's frivolity, as well as its subversion. And it's all within the air-conditioned safety of the Met, no Vera Vice around to poop the party.
There are still shoes, by the way, but we're talking about incredible, rainbow-under-her-feet wedgie sandals worn by Judy, so they get a pass.
I've always leaned toward the charm-school of thought that the truest camp is unintentional, and I'm surprised the concept even works today, when non-binary people freely roam the streets in dresses to express joy, not to induce laughter, but the show takes for granted that intentional camp, as so much of the fashion it flaunts is, more than counts.
Regardless, I'd love to turn the curators loose on a larger, less fashion-bound show, to see how they'd do defining camp without the sartorial cheat sheets that are Lagerfeld, Versace, Gaultier, Bob Mackie, Richie Rich and a slew of others whose threads were conceived as outrageous.
Taking that into account, the show is breathtakingly all-encompassing, giving off the heat of a thousand Project Runways.
Don't miss this, Mary. It's good, in spite of the fact that it isn't awful.
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