About Time: Fashion and Duration, Costume Institute Exhibition

about time - fashion and duration the met exhibition

Unless you live close to New York, unfortunately, there is a good chance few of us will get to see The Costume Institute’s exhibition About Time: Fashion and Duration (on view now until February 7, 2021) in person, but if you can it is, of course, a must! And if you can’t the virtual guided tour below is a wonderful second-best option.

The Concept Behind About Time: Fashion and Duration

In honor of The Met museum’s 150th anniversary, About Time traces 150 years of fashion, from 1870 to the present, along a disrupted timeline. The exhibition employs philosopher Henri Bergson’s concept of la durée—the continuity of time—through the exploration of how clothes generate temporal associations that converge past, present, and future. The concept is also examined through the writings of Virginia Woolf, who serves as the exhibition’s “ghost narrator.”

About Time: Fashion and Duration considers the ephemeral nature of fashion, employing flashbacks and fast-forwards to reveal how it can be both linear and cyclical,” said Max Hollein, Director of The Met. “The result is a show that presents a nuanced continuum of fashion over the Museum’s 150-year history.”

Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute, said: “Fashion is indelibly connected to time. It not only reflects and represents the spirit of the times, but it also changes and develops with the times, serving as an especially sensitive and accurate timepiece. Through a series of chronologies, the exhibition uses the concept of duration to analyze the temporal twists and turns of fashion history.”

Inside the About Time Exhibition

Presented in The Met Fifth Avenue’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, About Time: Fashion and Duration features a timeline of 125 fashions dating from 1870—the year of The Met’s founding and the start of a decade that witnessed major developments in the global standardization of time—to the present. The majority of objects on view are drawn from The Costume Institute’s collection, including major gifts from designers as part of The Met’s 2020 Collections Initiative, and related to the Museum’s 150th-anniversary activities.

about time exhibition Gallery View, Clock Two (Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Gallery View, Clock Two (Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

60-Minutes of Fashion

The timeline unfolds in two adjacent galleries fabricated as enormous clock faces and organized around the principle of 60 minutes of fashion. Each “minute” features a pair of garments, with the primary work representing the linear nature of fashion and the secondary work its cyclical character.

Gallery View, Clock One (Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Gallery View, Clock One (Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

To illustrate Bergson’s concept of duration—of the past co-existing with the present—the works in each pair are connected through shape, motif, material, pattern, technique, or decoration. For example, a black silk faille princess-line dress from the late 1870s pairs with an Alexander McQueen “Bumster” skirt from 1995. A black silk satin dress with enormous leg-o’-mutton sleeves from the mid-1890s juxtaposes a Comme des Garçons deconstructed ensemble from 2004.

The Significance of Black & White

about time exhibition Gallery View, Clock One (Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Gallery View, Clock One (Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

All of the garments are black to emphasize changes in silhouette, except at the conclusion of the show, where a white dress from Viktor & Rolf’s Spring/Summer 2020 Haute Couture Collection, made from upcycled swatches in a patchwork design, serves as a symbol for the future of fashion with its emphasis on community, collaboration, and sustainability.

Dress, Viktor & Rolf (Dutch, founded 1993), spring/summer 2020 haute couture; Courtesy Viktor + Rolf. Headpiece by Shay Ashual in collaboration with Yevgeny Koramblyum (Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Dress, Viktor & Rolf (Dutch, founded 1993), spring/summer 2020 haute couture; Courtesy Viktor + Rolf. Headpiece by Shay Ashual in collaboration with Yevgeny Koramblyum (Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Visit the About Time Exhibition, or Explore Online

Per government regulations, timed tickets are required for entrance to the Museum and to the About Time exhibition. Tickets are available at metmuseum.org. Entry to About Time on Mondays is for Museum Members only.

If you can’t make it in person (and even if you can!), the exhibition preview video and virtual guided tour by Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute will certainly give you a feel for the beautiful exhibit.

Preview of About Time: Fashion and Duration
Guided tour of About Time by Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute

Credits

About Time is made possible by Louis Vuitton. Corporate sponsorship is also provided by Condé Nast.

Andrew Bolton organized the exhibition with support from Amanda Garfinkel, Assistant Curator, and Jan Reeder, Curatorial Consultant. Visual artist and stage designer Es Devlin, known for creating large-scale performative sculptures and environments that fuse light, music, and language, created the exhibition design with The Met’s Design Department.

Additional support is provided by Michael Braun, John and Amy Griffin, Nancy C. and Richard R. Rogers, the Natasha and Adar Poonawalla Foundation, and the Laura and Raymond Johnson Fund.

Related Content

A publication by Andrew Bolton accompanies the exhibition and is on sale now. It features a new short story by Michael Cunningham, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Hours. Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novels Orlando and Mrs. Dalloway, the story recounts a day in the life of a woman that unfolds over 150 years, a timespan understood through changes of clothes and circumstances. Scholar Theodore Martin analyzes theoretical approaches to temporality, underscoring the idea that time is not simply a sequence of historical events. The publication, designed by Joseph Logan and Anamaria Morris, includes new black-and-white photography by Nicholas Alan Cope. Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, distributed by Yale University Press, the book is available for purchase at The Met Store.

Feature Image: (Left) Dress, Iris Van Herpen (Dutch, born 1984), fall/winter 2012–13 haute couture; Gift of Iris Van Herpen, in honor of Harold Koda, 2016 (2016.185). (Right) Ball Gown, Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978), 1951; Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Coulson, 1964 (2009.300.1311). Images courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photos © Nicholas Alan Cope.

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