Bad Taste, Irony, and Boldness: The Theme “Camp” at this Year’s Met Gala

Arising in 17th century France, the camp aesthetic granted “bad taste” a new sense of beauty. The exhibition “Camp: Notes on Fashion” at The Met Fifth Avenue takes up this concept, and is the main theme at the corresponding acclaimed gala.

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Great expectations were linked to this year’s Met Gala due to its more than buoyant theme: Camp. The aesthetic of camp, analyzed by cultural critic Susan Sontag in her 1964 essay Notes on Camp, inverted the modern idea of beauty by granting what was seen as “bad taste” an own appealing nature. Based on Sontag’s views, the Met’s Costume Institute shows this spring the exhibition Camp: Notes on Fashion, focusing on the way fashion designers bring the deliberately disturbing, riotous aesthetic of camp to life.

According to Camp: Notes on Fashion, the term camp finds its origins in the court of Louis XIV, where it defined a theatrical gesture. Later on, in Victorian England, camp was related to queer groups, to men with a liking for cross-dressing practices. And precisely in England, after the Oscar Wilde homosexuality trials at the end of the 19thcentury, the noun entered into J. Redding Ware’s 1909 slang dictionary as “actions and gestures of exaggerated emphasis”.

Dedicated to Wilde, Susan Sunday’s Notes on Camp, brought finally to the point the meaning of camp as “a seriousness that fails”, “the taste for the androgynus”, “the love of the unnatural”, of “the exaggerated”, and “something with ambitions of greatness that ends up going too far”. And indeed, this effervescent “going too far” nature was flaunted by many of the celebrities attending this year’s Met Gala, being Naomi Campbell, Jared Leto, Cara Delevigne and Lupita Nyong’o, some of the ones who embodied the bold, artificial, and glamorous aesthetic of camp best.

The Customer Institute exhibition Camp: Notes on Fashion highlights the deep impact of this style on art and popular culture, its roots, its defining elements, its ironic character, its unconventional perception of beauty, and its critical position. After overwhelmingly entering the mainstream for decades, camp continues redefining its meaning until today.

About the Exhibition

Camp: Notes on Fashion is displayed from May 9th to September 8th 2019 at The Met Fifth Avenue in New York. The exhibition features approximately 250 objects like fashion pieces, sculptures, paintings, and drawings from 17thcentury to the present. Made possible by Gucci, and supported by Condé Nast, Camp: Notes on Fashion is organized by Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu as Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute, Karen Van Godtsenhoven as Associate Curator, and Amanda Garfinkel as Assistant Curator.

If you cannot get to New York during this time, you can acquire the gorgeous two-volumed exhibition catalogue here. Enjoy it!

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