The MET‘s Rei Kawakubo/COMME des GARÇONS: Art of the In-Between exhibition, on view till September 4, examines Kawakubo’s fascination with interstitiality, or the space between boundaries. In Kawakubo’s work, this in-between space is revealed as an aesthetic sensibility, establishing an unsettling zone of oscillating visual ambiguity that challenges conventional notions of beauty, good taste, and fashionability. A thematic exhibition, rather than a traditional retrospective, this is The Costume Institute’s first monographic show on a living designer since the Yves Saint Laurent exhibition in 1983.
“In blurring the art/fashion divide, Kawakubo asks us to think differently about clothing,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director of The Met. “Curator Andrew Bolton explores work that often looks like sculpture in an exhibition that challenges our ideas about fashion’s role in contemporary culture.”
“Rei Kawakubo is one of the most important and influential designers of the past 40 years,” said Andrew Bolton, Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute. “By inviting us to rethink fashion as a site of constant creation, recreation, and hybridity, she has defined the aesthetics of our time.”
Rei Kawakubo said, “I have always pursued a new way of thinking about design…by denying established values, conventions, and what is generally accepted as the norm. And the modes of expression that have always been most important to me are fusion…imbalance… unfinished… elimination…and absence of intent.”
The exhibition features approximately 140 examples of Kawakubo’s womenswear designs for Comme des Garçons, dating from the early 1980s to her most recent collection. Objects are organized into nine dominant and recurring aesthetic expressions of interstitiality in Kawakubo’s work: Absence/Presence, Design/Not Design, Fashion/Anti-Fashion, Model/Multiple, High/Low, Then/Now, Self/Other, Object/Subject, and Clothes/Not Clothes. Kawakubo breaks down the imaginary walls between these dualisms, exposing their artificiality and arbitrariness. Her fashions demonstrate that interstices are places of meaningful connection and coexistence as well as revolutionary innovation and transformation, providing Kawakubo with endless possibilities to rethink the female body and feminine identity.
The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, on The Met Fifth Avenue’s second floor, has been transformed into an open, brightly lit white box with geometric structures. Intended to be a holistic, immersive experience, the space facilitates engagement with the fashions on display. A suggested pathway begins with four ensembles enclosed in a cylinder, reflecting Kawakubo’s enduring interest in blurring the boundaries between body and dress. Visitors, however, are encouraged to forge their own paths and experience the exhibition as a voyage of discovery.
The spare space has no text on the walls—instead, at the entrance, visitors receive an exhibition guide with gallery text and object labels.
all images © The Metropolitan Museum of Art