Magazine article Artforum International

"Punk: Chaos to Couture"

Magazine article Artforum International

"Punk: Chaos to Couture"

Article excerpt

METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART

I basically have no real relationship with punk because (a) I was too young for its initial moment of truth, and (b) it's so not my style. I remember buying those albums from the alternative record store when I was in college. I wanted them, but I didn't want to listen to them. But punk is so transhistorical now; is it possible to pry punk sensibility, which is essentially timeless, from punk as a music lifestyle with material and historical specificity? Now, if I say, "You're so punk rock," I am being derisive--it's like saying you're so not punk rock; you're so bourgeois. This doubling of negatives ran through "Punk: Chaos to Couture," curated by Andrew Bolton for the Met's Costume Institute, revealing an unstable moment in which the museum attempts to both display and digest the effects of an antiauthoritarian subculture.

Organized according to type of DIY customization (hardware, graffiti, etc.), the show juxtaposed punk-inflected high fashion from the 1970s to today--by designers such as Alexander McQueen, Thom Browne, Helmut Lang, and Zandra Rhodes--with vintage videos of band members dressed in classic punk gear. The exhibition's desire to resurrect punk's disruptive intention could be seen in the re-creation of the infamous CBGB bathroom, which was something of a centerpiece. Even unoccupied, this grouping of urinals, sinks, and toilets in a single cramped room without dividers evokes a transgressive mixture of sexual and bodily functions, which remains provocative. The exhibition's ambivalence about the nastier possibilities of design history was evident in the unevenness of the clothes themselves, which ranged from fabulously edgy to boring, but was perhaps most evident in the evenly spaced rows of mannequins with faces and heads submerged in decorative matching wigs. A row of matching fluffy pink wigs lined up under cute lettering reading NO FUTURE linked the message of an absent future to a contemporary rather than historical moment dominated by the conventionality of uniforms as fashion. …

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