The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Death Becomes Her & Kimono: A Modern History

Thanks to The Met, there’s tons of awesome clothes to check out for the next few months!

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1870-1872 ensemble, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire is open until February 1st in the fancy new-ish Anna Wintour Costume Center’s Carl and Iris Barrel Apfel Gallery, which can be reached by winding through 4,000 years of Egyptian art. It’s worth asking three or four security guards the way; don’t give up. And if you have the chance, go soon, it’s perfect for Halloween!

It’s fully handicapped accessible, but if you have the option, go down the stairs. They’re wide and have a few landings, so they’re not too strenuous. The walls along the stairs are painted with folk-art style, life-size black weeping willows – it sets the mood, especially as you walk down into the dark gallery with 1890s requiems playing in the background. Yeah!

Inside, there are about 30 ensembles from the early 19th to early 20th centuries. All are on nice mannequins with historic hairstyles in white wigs, and many have coordinating hats or veils. There are two men’s outfits, and one child’s dress, but mostly there are women’s clothes, hats, and accessories. Contemporary quotes are projected on the walls, and fashion plates are hung in one gallery.

While every piece in there is fascinating, some really stand out. One is a mourning gown worn by Queen Victoria, and two gowns worn by a princess (I forget who, sorry) in mourning for Queen Victoria. These two gowns are incredible – all glitter and spangles. There’s a bright purple ensemble from about 1895, and a late 1860s wedding gown made in partial mourning in respect for those lost in the Civil War.

So go see it! It’s great – very Gothic and Victorian and super interesting. The only truly bad thing about it is there’s no catalog!

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Over Robe (Uchikake) with Shell-Matching Game Boxes, mid-19th century. Lent by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection.

Kimono: A Modern History is also super good. This exhibit is up in the Arts of Japan galleries on the second floor until January 19th. The gallery begins with scraps of silk from before the 18th century. After that, some absolutely gorgeous Edo period kimono are displayed: think like-new metal and silk embroidery, eye popping colors and incredibly intricate work. Most of these pieces are displayed on racks, not mannequins, which shows the artwork much better since it’s flat.

The exhibit shows some working kimonos, especially those for firemen, some export garments and things made from exported silk in vaguely Asian-inspired designs, and then, a really interesting little collection of 1920s-1940s wartime and propaganda kimono. Who’d have thought?

(A tip for those who visit: ask a security guard to show you the staircase to the 3rd floor Chinese gallery nearby. There’s a single room up there filled with Chinese clothing from about the same period (18th century & up). It’s worth checking out!)

Kimono: A Modern History has a catalog which looks really good, too – I haven’t bought it yet but I think sometime soon I’ll pick one up.

So there’s my overview-in-a-nutshell! Enjoy!

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About Amanda Goebel

I'm an Anthropology / Fashion History and Material Culture graduate from The University of Delaware, currently working on a Master's in Museum Studies. I'm a living historian interested in costume and culture from years before. I love researching the mundane and the everyday that has changed or disappeared since. I re-enact the 18th century, and I recreate clothing from that time. This blog is where I'll write about my research and projects. View all posts by Amanda Goebel

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