Robert Mapplethorpe is included in ‘Camp: Notes on Fashion’ at The Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The Costume Institute’s spring 2019 exhibition explores the origins of camp’s exuberant aesthetic and how the sensibility evolved from a place of marginality to become an important influence on mainstream culture. Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay ‘Notes on “Camp”’ provides the framework for the exhibition, which examines how fashion designers have used their métier as a vehicle to engage with camp in a myriad of compelling, humorous, and sometimes incongruous ways.
The exhibition features approximately 250 objects, including womenswear and menswear, as well as sculptures, paintings, and drawings dating from the 17th century to the present. The show’s opening section positions Versailles as a ‘camp Eden’ and address the concept of se camper – ‘to posture boldly’ – in the royal courts of Louis XIV and Louis XV. It then focuses on the figure of the dandy as a ‘camp ideal’ and traces camp’s origins to the queer subcultures of Europe and America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In her essay, Sontag defined camp as an aesthetic and outlined its primary characteristics. The second section of the exhibition is devoted to how these elements – which include irony, humour, parody, pastiche, artifice, theatricality, and exaggeration – are expressed in fashion.