Walk through the galleries of the Met’s newly opened “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” exhibition to the soundtrack of Brian Eno’s 1978 “Ambient 1: Music For Airports” and time feels as if it had been slowed down.
The commissioned architects for the exhibition design were Rotterdam-based OMA, and to marry the decor with the theme of haute couture — historically defined by the meticulous handwork of embroidery, pleating, flower and featherwork — the designers set up an articulate scrim structure, where scaffolding is well visible behind the translucent fabric. “There was no real gallery space,” Shigematsu explains. “We had to create a whole environment that would black out all the light.”
© Albert Vecerka and OMA
The exhibition is located in the Robert Lehman Wing galleries, requiring that the visitor travel through the Medieval Sculpture Hall and pass through the enormous choir screen from the Valladolid Cathedral of 1763 that characterizes the room. Behind the gate, the centerpiece of the collection — Karl Lagerfeld’s Wedding Ensemble for the House of Chanel’s Autumn 2014 collection — becomes perceivable, marking the heart of OMA’s white, ghostly cathedral.
Courtesy of OMA
The six areas of the exhibition itself are structured around excerpts of French philosopher Denis Diderot’s Encyclopedia of the Sciences, Arts and Craft, which arrange elements of fashion and manual labor according to the details of the dress: embroidery, featherwork, artificial flowers, pleating, lacework and leatherwork.
Curated by Andrew Bolton, the exhibition is a discursive analysis of mechanization in fashion, attempting to break down the barriers between the handmade and the machine-made to show how luxury and time pervade in both systems.
Wedding Ensemble for Chanel © The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The ethereal exhibition design is one of sobriety, where the mechanic skeleton of the temporary structure allows for visual games beyond any one object that the visitor is looking at. Projections on the domes materialize the fabric behind the shown item, highlighting details of the dress, and once they turn off, the rest of the exhibition becomes visible again.
“L’Eléphant Blanc” by Yves Saint Laurent © The Metropolitan Museum of Art
You can visit “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City from May 5 through August 16, 2016.
Cover image: Gallery view © Brett Beyer