The Costume Institute’s upcoming exhibition “About Time: Fashion and Duration” traces 150 years of fashion, from 1870 to the present, along a disrupted timeline, in honor of the Museum’s 150th anniversary. Employing philosopher Henri Bergson’s concept of la durée—the continuity of time—the exhibition will explore how clothes generate temporal associations that conflate the past, present, and future. The concept will also be examined through the writings of Virginia Woolf, who will serve as the exhibition’s “ghost narrator.”
Presented in The Met Fifth Avenue’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, the exhibition will feature a timeline of 120 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 will be 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.
The timeline will unfold in two adjacent galleries fabricated as enormous clock faces and organized around the principle of 60 minutes of fashion. Each “minute” will feature a pair of garments, with the primary work representing the linear nature of fashion and the secondary work its cyclical character. To illustrate Bergson’s concept of duration—of the past co-existing with the present—the works in each pair will be connected through shape, motif, material, pattern, technique, or decoration. For example, a black silk faille princess-line dress from the late 1870s will be paired with an Alexander McQueen “Bumster” skirt from 1995. A black silk satin dress with enormous leg-o’-mutton sleeves from the mid-1890s will be juxtaposed with a Comme des Garçons deconstructed ensemble from 2004.
All of the garments will be 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, will serve as a symbol for the future of fashion with its emphasis on community, collaboration, and sustainability. The dress will float in an “infinity box” surrounded by a “tornado” of swatches, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes.