Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination will be the theme of the 2018 Met Gala, it was announced this afternoon. Heralded as the Oscars of the fashion industry thanks to its starry guest list, the event takes place on the first Monday of May and acts as the opening party of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual exhibition of the same title. The theme is already expected to ignite controversy when attendees arrive on the steps of the institution dressed in their – or their chosen designer’s – interpretation of a major world religion.
Works by Cristóbal Balenciaga, Elsa Schiaparelli, Dolce & Gabbana, John Galliano, Valentino and Versace are confirmed to be included in the 150-piece exhibition, which will be open from 10 May to 8 October 2018. The curator, Andrew Bolton, has been working for the past two years to ensure the subject is approached with authenticity and is said to have worked closely with the Vatican, although has had no contact with the pope regarding the show.
“The focus is on a shared hypothesis about what we call the Catholic imagination and the way it has engaged artists and designers and shaped their approach to creativity, as opposed to any kind of theology or sociology,” Bolton told the New York Times. “Beauty has often been a bridge between believers and unbelievers.”
Attendees to the opening red-carpet event, who are likely to include regulars such as supermodel Gisele Bündchen, Madonna and the British Vogue editor-in-chief, Edward Enninful, will have myriad options to choose from recent collections including ensembles from fashion enfant terrible Jean-Paul Gaultier, who favoured church iconography in his couture collections, and Dolce & Gabbana, a brand famous for including biblical references in its catwalk extravaganzas.
The exhibition will be split over three venues: the Anna Wintour Costume Center and the medieval galleries at the Met in Fifth Avenue, and at the Met Cloisters in upper Manhattan. American Vogue editor and museum trustee Anna Wintour will be joined by Rihanna, designer Donatella Versace and human-rights lawyer Amal Clooney, as co-chairs of the event.
“We have confidence that the exhibition will inspire understanding, creativity and, along the way, constructive dialogue, which is precisely a museum’s role in our civil society,” said the Met’s president and chief executive Daniel H Weiss.
Previous themes have included AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion; Punk: Chaos to Couture; Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology; and China: Through the Looking Glass, which proved controversial when claims of cultural appropriation dominated the critique.
“It’s important to have ideas that are a reflection of contemporary interests,” Bolton said today, “that strike a chord or are synergistic with the collective consciousness.”
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