Today was my day off, so I decided to head to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the exhibit Punk: Chaos to Couture. While I enjoyed the exhibit, I have to say that it was a lot more "couture" than "chaos". Here's the press release for the exhibit.
The exhibit, situated on the second floor of the 'Met, started with a brief overview of punk's "Do It Yourself" aesthetic- an aesthetic born largely out of poverty, as slumming Lower East Siders in New York and working-class kids in England cobbled together distinctive looks out of worn clothing and found objects, forming a look which was calculated to shock middle-class sensibilities. One of the first displays featured a Vivienne Westwood designed red "parachute" tunic, paired with red bondage pants with a terrycloth drop seat. Ms Westwood, it must be noted, was one of the designers who shaped the English punk aesthetic in the 1970s, while running the boutique "SEX" with Malcolm McLaren, who went on to become the "Svengali" behind the Sex Pistols.
The next gallery focused more on the New York punk scene, including (hilariously) a mock-up of the men's bathroom of C.B.G.B.- thankfully, the exhibit did not replicate the hideous miasma which accompanied the original (let's face it, the club was a fetid hellhole, storied as it was). As there wasn't a single "fount" of fashion for the 1970's Lower East Side scenesters, this wasn't the most compelling portion of the show. The soundtrack of this part of the exhibit included snippets of such NYC classics as I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement.
Following on this was an exhibit of clothes sold at the various McLaren and Westwood run shops at 430 Kings Road, London. Among the infamous designs on display were the "Two Cowboys" shirt (modeled by Sid Vicious here), which was inspired by the gay fetish art of Tom of Finland, the "God Save the Queen" T-Shirt, and the "Tits" T-shirt (modeled by Steve Jones here). Additionally, there was a video filmed at the 430 King's Road shop featuring an individual completely encased in a latex bondage suit, complete with "gimp" mask. As an aside, Malcolm McLaren was fascinated by the topic of submission, and he asked the Sex Pistols to write a song about it, with hilarious results. The centerpiece of this area of the exhibit was a "compare and contrast" of the classic Westwood designs and contemporary designs inspired by the originals.
The next galleries explored four different aspects of the punk aesthetic, starting with "Hardware". This section started off with the safety pins, chains, and studs that adorned punk clothes. Johnny Rotten, in his typical blunt fashion, explained the provenance of the safety pin in punk fashion: “The arse of your pants falls out, you just use safety pins.” The exhibit featured designer clothes with gold faux safety pins, padlocks(Sid famously wore a padlock necklace), and studs.
The second aspect of the aesthetic that was explored was bricolage. This gallery featured plastic garbage- and shopping-bag dresses, and dresses made up to look like they were made out of newsprint. In this gallery, the sountrack featured snippets of Boredom by the Buzzcocks, New Rose by The Damned, and Identity by the X-Ray Spex.
The third aspect dwelt on was Graffiti and Agitprop, typified by the spray painted and stenciled jumpsuits worn by The Clash. Tragically, the soundtrack in this section of the exhibit was ambient music, no Mick, Joe, Paul, and Tory-or-Topper to be heard. Among the current examples in this section was Vivienne Westwood's "Climate Revolution" design.
The last facet of the punk aesthetic touched upon in this exhibit was titled "Destroy", and hinged on the ripped-and-reconstituted look necessitated by poverty (refer to Monsieur Rotten's quote about safety pins and the arse of his pants).
All told, I wanted to see more chaos and less couture, to hear more of the raucous music I love so well. The exhibit was good, but I probably wasn't the target audience. Anyway, here's a video featuring Vivienne Westwood in her salad days on the King's Cross Road:
It was nice to see the Met playing homage to punk, they have a heavy metal exhibit every day.