I’ve been pushing off going to this exhibition since it opened in May, especially after the whole opening gala kind of made me a little sick to the stomach. I knew all along that this wasn’t really an exhibition about punk in general, about how the punk movement began, where it came from, and how it developed and how it died, or evolved (however you want to see it). I knew all along it was more about how punk influenced fashion… But still. I literally grew up around a lot of music, including a lot of punk, seeing as my father was one. Back in the early 80’s he sported a pretty impressive Mohawk and wore some interesting items of clothing. He also lived the kind of life you can only imagine a punk would live in England back then, and I was very much a part of it as a kid. For someone who grew up in the middle of those dark days of Thatcher and amidst the punk movement I didn’t want to go to this exhibition as a snob, but with an open mind. I really did try.
But seriously. There is hardly anything referring to the movement or the music itself, except for a few quotes on the walls (was it really necessary to quote Joe Strummer as “Joe Strummer from The Clash” and Johnny Rotten as “Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols”?!). The CBGB bogs made me laugh because it was funny to see a place where we have all peed or done something in once in our lives uprooted and displayed as part of a museum exhibition. There were a few original Vivienne Westwood pieces from back in the day on display, but all in all the exhibition was mainly a collection of haute couture designer garments that were in some way influenced by punk. From a fashion point of view it was pretty cool as there were some items that resembled outfits that I’ve been putting together since my teens, a lot of lace, black, shredded jeans and t-shirts. The couture dresses made from garbage bags were interesting, although I doubt they could actually ever be worn, more pieces of art than actual articles of clothing.
But where was the music? Where were all the photos that could have been displayed around the rooms? Where were the videos that could have been shown on TV monitors? Why were most of the models wearing clothes designed after 2000? If the point of the whole exhibition was to showcase how punk had influenced fashion then why were there not any references or pictures to the icons in the late 70’s and early 80’s who created the outfits in the beginning? Of course Vivienne Westwood is one icon, as is Malcolm McLaren, but there are so many others, not fashion designers, but musicians, poets, people who just were there at the time and created their own outfits out of nothing. Because, you know, I doubt that anyone who was part of it all back then would have been able to afford a Moschino trash bag dress. I mean, I know my dad couldn’t, seeing as being on the dole in the early 80’s didn’t really make you a millionaire.
Anyway, there could have been a lot more to this exhibition. Instead, to me, it was really just a bunch of designer outfits lined up in different rooms, which were somewhat influenced by punk. I just feel like it fell short of a lot of things. And the whole “no photos allowed” part was quite silly – are they worried somebody is going to steal the designers’ ideas?! I mean, that’s a little ironic, don’t you think? I managed to get take some shots with my phone anyway, but it’s pretty easy to find a bunch of images online if you search. If you really want to.
All in all, pretty cool from a visual aspect, but completely lacking in any kind of background or actual real punk substance. Only bother going if you love fashion and haute couture, or if you want to visit the rest of the museum (which is completely worth it). There is SO much they could have done to make this exhibition amazing. They just didn’t.
One of my friends gave me THIS brilliant book about Vivienne Westwood as a Christmas gift quite a few years ago. Now this is relevant and pretty awesome in terms of background and images.
Punk: Chaos to Couture at The Metropolitan Museum of Art - exhibition ends on August 14th