Does Fashion Deserve To Be In a Museum?

by Kristina Uriegas-Reyes

At any given moment, there are at least a dozen fashion displays and exhibits going on around the world. Most recently, I saw the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibit at The Met and had no hesitation about considering it art, but I did start to wonder, “When does fashion become art” and “What exactly is the criteria?” Yesterday The New York Times published an article “Gone Global: Fashion as Art?” by Suzy Menkes, which I thought brought up some interesting points about how a museum decides to choose a designer for certain exhibits. Various issues arise including the idea of “What makes a fashion exhibition worthy?” and “What is considered ‘great art’?” along with funding issues, especially when it comes to possibly working with designers who are still alive. 

 Some of the answers they mention come from museums all over. Pamela Golbin, curator in chief of Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris has produced exhibitions on fashion as varied as Balenciaga and Viktor & Rolf. She says that when it comes to an exhibition decision,“[The clothes] have to be strong enough from a design point of view.” Mr. John E. Buchanan Jr., director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco says, “[..]Fashion designers are artists. In considering a monographic exhibition, we look for ‘the genius factor.’ We want the designer who is seminal — who has created a singular vision, silhouette, technique or style unlike that which came before and who has a broad-reaching oeuvre that inspires and influences successive generations of designers.” 

Specifically they mention that The Met’s approach is “thematic and interpretational,” by putting fashion in a context. Andrew Bolton, who works with Harold Koda at the Costume Institute, says that the museum’s criteria for a show, like McQueens, is whether the designer has “changed the course of fashion history.” I’d say McQueen has!

The article also gives a reason why so many fashion exhibits keep popping up. “The reason there are so many exhibitions,” as Beatrice Salmon, director of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, explains, “is because fashion consistently attracts a large audience.” Simple enough I suppose. I know I always go.

 The article touched on a lot of other points and some of the other issues I mentioned, but I suppose, when it comes to exhibition criteria, it’s sort of in the eye of the beholder. The criteria for all these things mentioned might change for each curator, but it seems like enough people have to agree to draw a crowd and be able to keep artistic museum integrity. 

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