Photos: “PUNK: Chaos to Couture” at the Met (slide show)

The Costume Institute’s much-anticipated exhibit is eye-catching, but pretty vacant.

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  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Photograph: Virginia Rollison

"Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art


The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the punk movement—who’d’ve thunk? We were hoping that these strange bedfellows might make a beautiful, weird baby together, but no such luck. In “PUNK: Chaos to Couture,” Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton keeps the beast in a cage, taking a subculture that’s all about flux, dissolution and gritty accessibility, and trapping it in amber. (For more info on the exhibit, check out our preview.)

Bolton’s definition of punk encompasses mostly a narrow strip of the late 1970s when the music and the lifestyle first burst to loud, fetid life in the rock clubs and boutiques of New York and London. Spread out across multiple rooms, the exhibition presents a combination of original pieces from punk’s heyday—many items from Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren’s legendary SEX boutique in London—and modern garments that supposedly reinterpret the aesthetic.

It’s neat to see the vintage artifacts (incendiary T-shirts, mangled tartan and the like) up close and in person; but the haute couture updates by designers such as Burberry, Dior and Moschino don’t seem to be having much of a conversation with their DIY inspirations—or at least, not one that’s particularly interesting to overhear. There are definitely stories to be told about the pieces, but very little context is offered.

The mannequins in the show wear identically styled fright wigs that cover the entire head and face, making the figures look not coiffed, but muzzled. And most bizarrely of all, there’s the bathroom of CBGB—complete with graffiti, cigarette butts, crumpled toilet paper and other scuzz—re-created behind a plastic divider: Look, but don’t piss. 

Then again, maybe the exhibit is an apotheosis. After all, profane reappropriation of hallowed iconography is a big part of punk; and now, decades down the line, punk itself has been appropriated by the very culture of privilege it scorned.

Perhaps the show is best encompassed in its final display: a near-naked mannequin in the tatters of an evening gown, defiantly flipping the bird. Whether the gesture is directed at museumgoers or at punk itself is open to interpretation; we suspect it’s both.


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