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Art Snobs Divided Over Whether Fashion Exhibits Belong in Museums

The Metropolitan Museum's annual Costume Institute Gala put on by Vogue and known as the Oscars of the East Coast is not only the best, most fashionable red carpet of the year, but probably also the best fund-raiser the museum has all year. Last year's gala brought in $9 million, and other museums in less fashionable parts of the country that want some of that dough are dipping a toe into fashion exhibits to get some. The de Young museum in San Francisco just opened a Balenciaga exhibit with the glittery star power such events would be expected to attract, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Orlando Bloom, and Anna Wintour. Some guests at the opening paid $100,000 for a ticket — each of which was priced at only $2,500.

But, as museums increasingly embrace these exhibits for what they say are intellectual and financial reasons, some art snobs are taking issue with the infiltration of fashion snobs.

While there are many well-heeled supporters of exhibits like the Balenciaga one at the de Young, there are the haters:

“A hit show like ‘Project Runway,’ whose viewers are young females, underscores the passion for fashion among a key demographic that is also crucial for museums,” said Tyler Green, who edits the blog Modern Art Notes.

...Mr. Green is not a fan, either. “They do obvious shows that they take from elsewhere,” he said. “They are gate-turning shows rather than scholarly investigating shows that you would expect from a mature museum. It might be O.K. in a smaller or newer city. I wish they did more probative shows.”

Update: "Tyler Green writes to explain that the Cut misrepresented his position. He is not a 'hater' of fashion exhibitions, and has told New York that he believes art museums can and often do present smart, historicizing fashion exhibitions. His comments as published in the Times were an accurate reflection of his beliefs regarding the quality of programming at the de Young Museum, which is one of two Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco."

Yet other art diehards are fine with it:

Excess space partly explains the fashion frenzy, in the opinion of the art critic Dave Hickey. “A museum’s job is ignoring a lot of bad art,” he said. “The major problem is that there are too many museums with too much space to fill. I don’t see why they should not fill it with Balenciaga rather than some hippie artist from Colorado. The good designers are artists, and they are interesting.”

He's right: Out with the hippies, in with the dresses! Besides, people who care enough about clothes to pay to view them on pedestals deserve to feel intellectual and cultured about it from time to time. You can't get that at Saks.

Museums Are Finding Room for Couturiers [NYT]

Photo: Jacques Demarthon/AFP/Getty Images

Copyright © 2013, New York Media LLC. All Rights Reserved. The Cut® are registered trademarks of New York Media LLC.

Copyright © 2013, New York Media LLC.
All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2013, New York Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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