Presented in The Met Fifth Avenue’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, it will explore the origins of the camp aesthetic and how it has evolved from a place of marginality to become an important influence on mainstream culture. Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay Notes on ‘Camp’ provides the framework for the exhibition, which will examine how fashion designers have used their métier as a vehicle to engage with camp in a myriad of compelling, humorous, and sometimes incongruous ways.
The exhibition will feature approximately 175 objects, including womenswear and menswear, as well as sculptures, paintings, and drawings dating from the 17th century to the present. The show’s opening section will position Versailles as a “camp Eden” and address the concept of se camper—“to posture boldly”—in the royal courts of Louis XIV and Louis XV. It will then focus on the figure of the dandy as a “camp ideal” and trace camp’s origins to the queer subcultures of Europe and America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In her essay, Sontag defined camp as an aesthetic and outlined its primary characteristics. The largest section of the exhibition will be devoted to how these elements—which include irony, humor, parody, pastiche, artifice, theatricality, and exaggeration—are expressed in fashion.