Punk: From Chaos to Couture
Last weekend, I went to the Met to see their new exhibit, Punk: From Chaos to Couture. We had a friend in town who was interested in seeing it, and I usually really enjoy the Met’s costume exhibits. The Alexander McQueen exhibit a couple of summers ago was totally breathtaking–I still haven’t gotten over that one.
However, I found this particular exhibit disappointing. I’ll admit that punk–the music, the attitude, and the aesthetic–just isn’t my thing. It probably couldn’t be further from my thing, in fact. But I can appreciate the art behind the attitude, and I was hoping to see some of that in this exhibit.
Punk is a kind of mythic story, featuring an assortment of anti-heroes ranging from Johnny Rotten to Iggy Pop to Debbie Harry. It’s a story of rebellion against authority and what society deemed “right.” It’s a rejection of tradition and rules. It’s basically an angry middle finger aimed at the world. Or, at least, it was.
More than celebrating the ethos and history behind the Punk movement, or even the figures who made it what it was, the Met exhibit highlights how the fashion industry essentially co-opted the movement and copied the look, selling torn dresses adorned with safety pins and ripped leather jackets for tens of thousands of dollars. While I don’t dispute that this fashion movement is interesting, I thought that the exhibit would have been far more enlightening and meaningful had it featured photographs of punk icons wearing the real “fashion” of the times, at the very least.
There were a few nods to authentic punk culture, such as a display of t-shirts designed by Vivienne Westwood and popular in the punk movement in the 70s, but beyond that, everything was facsimile, including a model of the famous CBGB’s bathroom.
Another noteworthy omission from the show was the MUSIC. The music of The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, New York Dolls, the Clash–they defined that era and they defined what punk was all about, more so than anything else. So why was the music so absent from the show? We theorized that perhaps Met patrons wouldn’t enjoy the loud, offensive, crashing noise of rebellion, but….isn’t some art made to be provoking and unpleasant?
In the punk spirit, I thought I would include a few photos of some punk icons, looking decidedly awesome. Have you seen this exhibit? What did you think?
*top two images via The Met