When “About Time: Fashion and Duration,” the Met’s 2020 Costume Institute exhibition, was announced last fall, no one knew that a global pandemic would strike and we’d be living in a world in which all clocks seem like they’re melting, à la Dalí. COVID-19 has forced the postponement of the show and its opening night gala, but its accompanying catalog is to be published later this month.
The museum as a whole is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and in solidarity the garments chosen for “About Time” date from the institution’s founding in 1870 to today, reflecting how fashion has changed, how it’s stayed the same, and where it’s headed next. Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of the Costume Institute, explores two theories of time in the exhibition. One, proposed by the poet Charles Baudelaire, is linear, and asserts a separation between now and then; the other, offered by the philosopher Henri Bergson, conflates the two. In two galleries featuring Es Devlin–designed clockfaces, “60 minutes” of fashion are to be displayed. Each “minute” will be illustrated with two garments, each of which will mark its own time while simultaneously speaking across eras. Another doubling is the way the show references the Costume Institute’s own exhibition history, specifically the methodology first pioneered there in 1993 of juxtaposing clothes old and new, as if in dialogue.
All ensembles in “About Time” are shown in black or white, a trope that has been carried through to the catalog, designed by Joseph Logan and Anamaria Morris—most vividly through Nicholas Alan Cope’s photographs. His honest images capture the garments with a sort of clear-eyed purity that emphasizes their plasticity or sculptural quality and pays tribute to them as objects of exquisite shape and design.
The rhythm of the catalog is set by a sort of graphic metronome, and is made visible through the black notches that appear in the plate section of the book. Those on the bottom of the page mark the Baudelarian concept of time, those on the top edge the Bergsonian. Side notches offer the opportunity for readers to “stitch” the two together. Additionally, each “minute” is introduced by quotes (arranged sequentially) by the British writer Virginia Woolf, who grappled with the subject of time in her work.
Bolton describes Woolf as the catalog’s “ghost narrator.” Professor Theodore Martin provided an essay, “On Time,” while Michael Cunningham, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel, The Hours, contributed a short story.
Originally Appeared on Vogue