The traditionally opulent aesthetics of the Catholic Church take a stylish, glamorous turn in the “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute in New York. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the exhibition brings together high fashion and medieval Christian art, all set against the dramatic backdrop of the museum's Byzantine and medieval galleries and The Met Cloisters.
Spread across 27 galleries across the two locations, the exhibition showcases traditional papal garments and accessories from the Sistine Chapel sacristy (many of which have never been displayed outside The Vatican) next to fashions from the early 20th century to the present.
The modern and contemporary garments draw from the historic art and architecture that surrounds them, while the papal robes and objects from The Vatican take the spotlight against a more abstract, “visually decontextualized” backdrop.
“Catholic space is an intricate mise-en-scene. The Catholic imagination invoked by the show’s title suggests a constellation of images, a world of immanence in which the spiritual is accessible via the sensual. Church liturgy is an immersive interweaving of diverse art forms. Scripture, music, architecture, art, and decorative arts work in concert to engender collectivity, ritual, and devotion. More than a stage or a container, Catholic space is the holistic integration of a multisensory aesthetic experience,” DS+R describes.
The exhibition also emphasizes the presence of light within Catholic space. Projections of “supernatural daylight” shine throughout the exhibition, while key works are highlighted with window-shaped frames of cool, crisp light.
“The exhibition design strikes a balance between an experience which feels elevated, and one which allows for the requisite level of criticality within a broader material culture. On the one hand, religion is sacred and inviolate, but on the other, it has always engaged with art and design. The tension this exhibition explores is how that relationship, and the values it expresses, change over time.”
“Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” will be on display from May 10 - October 8.
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