The Costume Institute’s spring 2018 exhibition, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, on view from May 10 through October 8, 2018, examines ties between fashion and the Catholic church in an exhibition split across two venues of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The thematic exhibition features a dialogue between fashion and masterworks of medieval art in The Met collection to examine fashion’s ongoing engagement with the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism. A group of papal robes and accessories from the Vatican serves as the cornerstone of the exhibition, highlighting the enduring influence of liturgical vestments on designers.
“Fashion and religion have long been intertwined, mutually inspiring and informing one another,” Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute, has said. “Although this relationship has been complex and sometimes contested, it has produced some of the most inventive and innovative creations in the history of fashion.”
“The Catholic imagination is rooted in and sustained by artistic practice, and fashion’s embrace of sacred images, objects, and customs continues the ever-evolving relationship between art and religion,” said Daniel H. Weiss, President and CEO of The Met. “The Museum’s collection of Byzantine and western medieval art, in combination with the architecture and galleries that house these collections at The Met, provide the perfect context for these remarkable fashions.”
The exhibition features approximately 40 ecclesiastical masterworks from the Sistine Chapel sacristy, many of which have never been seen outside the Vatican. Encompassing more than 15 papacies from the 18th to the early 21st century, these masterworks are on view in the Anna Wintour Costume Center galleries and include papal vestments and accessories, such as rings and tiaras. The last time the Vatican sent a loan of this magnitude to The Met was in 1983, for The Vatican Collections exhibition, which is the Museum’s third most-visited show.
Providing an interpretative context for fashion’s engagement with Catholicism are more than 150 ensembles, primarily womenswear, from the early 20th century to the present, on view in the Byzantine and medieval galleries, in part of the Robert Lehman Wing, and at The Met Cloisters alongside medieval art from The Met collection. The presentation situates these designs within the broader context of religious artistic production to analyze their connection to the historiography of material Christianity and their contribution to the construction of the Catholic imagination.
“Most of the designers featured in the exhibition were raised Catholic,” adds Bolton. “While many of them no longer practice, their relationships to Catholicism vary considerably. Most acknowledge its significant influence over their imaginations.”
The designers range from Azzedine Alaïa to Cristobal Balenciaga, Chanel, Rodarte, Olivier Theyskens, Versace, Yves Saint Laurent, and Elsa Schiaparelli, to name a few.
The two locations cover different themes relating to the overall title, across a total of 25 galleries and 60,000 square feet (5,570 square meters) of exhibition space designed by New York architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Previous editions have included a retrospective of work by Comme des Garcons founder Rei Kuwakabo. Heavenly Bodies opens to the public from 10 May 2018 and runs until 8 October 2018.
all images courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art