NEW YORK CITY – Set to the sound of Brian Eno’s ‘An Ending (Ascent)’ and juxtaposed with an ecclesiastical backdrop, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology celebrates the dichotomy between technology and craft while elevating haute couture as a veritable form of fine art. In doing so, the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition – curated by the Costume Institute’s Andrew Bolton – surveys 170 ensembles made using a hybrid approach, each classified according to one of Denis Diderot’s six métiers of dressmaking: embroidery, leather-work, artificial flowers, lacework, pleating and feather-work.
Such a diverse range of conceptually derived and intricately composed garments required a neutral setting. The MET turned to Dutch firm OMA to transform the double-height atrium and corridors of the Robert Lehman Wing into a serene clerestory and adjoining naves, which separate each métier from the rest. OMA used a dramatic, translucent-white scrim to mask the wing’s eclectic mix of building materials, to block sunlight from the glass ceiling, and to reinforce the hushed ambience of the domed, cathedral-like space.
Upon entering the multistorey atrium, guests are greeted by Karl Lagerfeld’s 2014 wedding dress for Chanel, a prime example of a hybrid construction process. The baroque, machine-manipulated pattern – hand-embroidered onto the gown’s 6-m-long train – is projected onto the surface above, modestly evoking the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
OMA’s exhibition design encourages visitors to fully consider the question posed by the show: are the tools used during the creative dressmaking process more significant than a boundary-pushing outcome?
Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology is on show through 5 September 2016
Photos Albert Vecerka