If you’ve skipped on the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination exhibit, then you have missed out on a lot. But way many people have not, especially since the Heavenly Bodies reached an astronomical number of visitors by the end of its five-month run and became the most visited exhibition in the Met’s history.
The Costume Institute’s Heavenly Bodies first opened its doors on May 10, right after the Met Gala with the same theme, and ended just this October 8, concluding an exhibit that is unusually long in duration even for the museum. During and in between the dates, it has attracted a total of 1,659,647 visitors, creating a new record for the museum. The exhibition for spring 2018 has eclipsed the Treasures of Tutankhamun, which invited 1,360,957 viewers and has held the top spot for 40 years. Heavenly Bodies also is the most ambitious show ever done by the museum to date, hosted in two separate locations, The Met and The Met Cloisters, and divided into 25 galleries.
The show was organized by Wendy Yu. Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute Andrew Bolton. He was also credited for previously bringing to museum visitors other popular exhibitions, among them Savage Beauty, which featured creations by the late British designer Alexander McQueen, and China: Through the Looking Glass. The curator worked on making the project a reality after dealing with an initially unenthusiastic church, even bringing along Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour in their goal to show the role of beauty and fashion to the Church. The choice to hold it in two locations had a deeper significance than just allowing the exhibit to be more accessible to people; Bolton said that it was inspired by the Catholic practice of pilgrimage.
The exhibit, true to its title, tackles the influence of religion, in particular Catholicism, and religious art to fashion as well as the other way around. Liturgical garments and accessories, some of which are from the Vatican and have been taken to a different destination for the first time in history, made their way to the galleries. The late John Paul II’s red shoes have found themselves in New York and so did tiaras of former popes from centuries ago. Heavenly Bodies made the news not only for the lent items on display but also for notable designers’ take on Catholic symbols, regardless of said designers’ religious orientation, although most were brought up as Catholics. There were more than 150 ensembles, both representing and inspired by medieval art, including the collection from the Sistine Chapel Sacristy as well as couture from Gianni Versace, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Dolce & Gabbana, Jean Paul Gaultier, Yves Saint Laurent and Rodarte.
Fashion may not be the first thing in mind when Roman Catholicism is uttered, but the exhibit has shown how it has served as a means to represent the divine and the religious among believers, even beyond the church’s beautiful cathedrals and collected artwork, and as exemplified by the popes’ choices in vestments. Indeed, the show has stirred a reaction among practicing Catholics, some even saying that it was offensive due to the lavishness of the collection. Heavenly Bodies also brought up the conversation regarding fashion being a true art form. The discipline has long suffered from being relegated to a lower position than painting or sculpture due to its decorative and commercial nature, but the exhibit proves its importance in art history just as much as painting, music and architecture did, at least within the context of religion.
Image credits: Amelia Krales for The Goods, George Pimentel/Getty Images, Jemal Countess/Getty Images, AFP, Brett Beyer, Rex/Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock
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The @MetCostumeInstitute spring 2018 exhibition “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination” attracted 1,659,647 visitors to The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters during its run from May 10 to October 8, making it the most visited exhibition in The Met’s history. Image credit: Gallery View, Medieval Sculpture Hall © The Metropolitan Museum of Art #TheMet #MetHeavenlyBodies