MOMA’s take on fashion

Is Fashion Modern? is MOMA’s first foray into a fashion exhibition since their 1944 exhibition Are Clothes Modern? While their 1944 exhibition, curated by Bernard Rudofsky, focussed on the meaning of dress as an aspect of human subconscious expression governed by habit, this year’s exhibition looks at 111 articles of dress and accessories that had, or currently have an impact on contemporary clothing.

This is not an exhibition about design or art, but rather an exhibition of everyday clothing and its relationship between fashionable aesthetics, function, culture, identity, politics, economy, and technology. Blue jeans, pantyhose, and the LBD appear alongside the sari, kippah, and keffiyeh.

I won’t be seeing the show. It’s not that I disagree with the premise, in fact it is everything I find fascinating about fashion – its relationship with everything else in the world. However, is an exhibition about the sociology of everyday dress in the right venue at one of the world’s leading art museums? The topic borders on the mundane as virtually every artifact could be found for a scavenger hunt via a visit to a box store or local thrift shop. There is something very bloggy about the topic. It is subject matter that lends itself well to a top 100 list of fashion hits from the past century. It could be one of those online ‘clickbait’ features you have to laboriously click through to see the next picture.

There is a valid argument that the museum is elevating the sociological story of fashion into a topic of conversation, but how many of the 111 artifacts will be remembered by visiting patrons? This is really a topic best kept between the covers of a book – and I bet the catalogue is great, but when I go to a museum I want to see nice things I can’t find at a thrift store. 

Added January 3/2018: It seems I am not the only one to question this exhibition.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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2 Responses to MOMA’s take on fashion

  1. MM Curator says:

    Fascinating take. I’ll be seeing it since it includes red lipstick (the curatorial assistant was actually in touch with me about lipstick history resources!) but you have a pretty interesting angle on it. 🙂

  2. liz says:

    The Vuitton fanny pack looks like an actual fanny.

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