I am in New York City visiting my dear friend Thom Vernon. Thom was invited to the New York Fringe Festival to perform his one-man show, The Drifts-Live, and I figured that was a good enough excuse to visit the city for six days and hang out with my dear friend.
The last time I was in the city was before September 2011. It was surreal breaking through the low-lying thick clouds and looking out at the Manhattan skyline with the sad and empty space where once stood the Twin Towers. Yet the city continues to hum, move, and groove.
My one “must do” adventure here was to get to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and see the fashion exhibit “From Chaos to Couture.” Although I was only 11 or so when I first heard the word 'punk' and started seeing and hearing about The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Zandra Rhodes, and Vivienne Westwood I found the style fascinating and the music deliciously unnerving. I was excited to see this exhibit and to get a better feel for the context out of which punk exploded, for when it began its slow seepage into mainstream culture I was just a suburban teenager worrying about boys and acne.
The exhibit was a huge disappointment on so many levels it's difficult to know where to start. First off, yes, the clothing they have on exhibit is amazing, breathtaking, and just all around phenomenal; but much of the clothing exhibited are by designers that weren't even around, let alone influential to the movement. There are incredible pieces by Alexander McQueen, but he wasn't even out of junior high when the movement began! Most of the fashion pieces exhibited are “after the fact.”
I was hoping to get a sense of the nihilistic, anarchic, and destructive beginnings of punk but these were only vaguely indicated through seizure-inducing looped video projections and background noise. I suppose the curator, Andrew Bolton, decided that the poverty, anger and sense of disenfranchisement that helped spawn the punk movement was not important to address?
And the designs themselves, though brilliant in their technical execution lack any sense of irony to the fact that if a true punk from the seventies walked through the exhibit they'd piss and spit on the clothes.
The entire exhibit is a perversely extravagant, co-opted, commercialized, and elitist white-wash of one of the 20th century's seminal cultural periods.
So just in case you forgot...this was punk.