Before the ultra A-list fashion gala at the Met for the Superhero: Fantasy and Fashion exhibit, we attended the press preview earlier in the day. The place was packed with a particular kind of New York crowd that sneaks into such things: a mix of legit press, pushy cameramen in cargo vests, bizarre, aged socialites with fuschia hair, and so on. They gathered in a hall filled with antique marble statues to hear remarks by Vogue’s Anna Wintour, a tiny wisp of a woman as see-through as the glass of water she carried — surely her meal for the day — and fashion icon Georgio Armani. The crowd was also addressed by Nathan Crowley, the production designer or BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT, who had designed the rather startling environment for the 60 or so costumes/outfits that make up the show.
And oh that show. On the one hand, it marks the ascendance of superheroes/comics to yet another level of cultural acceptance. It’s a shocker to see giant Alex Ross photo murals hanging in the Met, only a few yards, as the crow flies, from Velazquez’s marvelous Juan de Pareja (our favorite painting at the Met), or to see Adi Granov credited for the design of Iron Man, or to see Christopher Reeve’s form near ancient marble Apollos.
On the other, it was yet another “Pow! Bam!” interpretation of comics; the fashions on display at the Met are the most lurid, fetishistic imaginable, and that was the intent, as the wall texts make clear. John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler are the main notes, as a procession of spandex girdles, bustiers, and codpieces present an alarming vista of futuristic battle. Forget grim ‘n’ gritty, as show organizer Andrew Bolton put it in his remarks, the show embodies the “tough, hard-edged glamour of the 80s.” The fashions on display are fantasy all the way– spider-webbed dresses, jaunty gas mask ensembles, giant leather shoulder decorations. No surprise that Armani’s main comment about the show was his wonderment that these fashions had actually been included in collections.
Those looking for some validation for comics will just sigh when reading yet again the High Art trope that Warhol treated Superman with the “same irony and respect” he afforded a soup can. Like other comics-based assaults on the temples of High Culture, this one is repelled with a nod to Pop Art, irony and superhero-as-myth.
Which isn’t to say the show isn’t spectacular. One suspects it may have been put together to attempt to draw a younger crowd to the Met. In that it may succeed. The organization of the show, thematic views of the body centering around such iconic superheroes as Spider-Man, Superman, Wonder Woman and The X-Men, works splendidly, presenting bold, surprising juxtapositions of costumes from IRON MAN, BATMAN BEGINS, CATWOMAN and so on, alongside high fashion that one can’t believe, as Armani said, anyone was ever meant to wear. It’s conceptual art all the way. Crowley’s design for the show was all darkness and 45-degree giant mirrors, a foreboding world of men in iron masks.
There were a few comics folk at the press preview; we ran into Paul Levitz in a superhero-themed tie. Michael Chabon, now something of an expert on superhero costuming, was on hand to discuss the show’s meaning with reporters. We also spotted Michael Uslan and Vincent Zurzulo from Metropolis Comics, who contributed to the display. Hopefully some of these folks were also at the gala that night! Among comics press, we only recognized Peter Sanderson, who had two books for sale in the museum shop at the end of the show.
Both Marvel and DC cooperated heavily with the show obviously, but the centerpiece of it all was a giant troika of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman in the Museum’s rotunda. IT’s the first thing you see as you walk in. That will presumably be up until the show ends on September 1, and we do recommend it as a pilgrimage for those who want to see superheroes at long last enshrined along side other mythic figures.
But they had to come on Wam! Pow! terms. In fact, the museum store is selling — in addition to the excellent catalog — jewelry and fashion inspired by the show. Among the items, a silk scarf in acid pink and green emblazoned with — what else? — “POW!” and “BAM!” At $35 it’s a steal. And now a permanent part of our wardrobe.
A few more piccies:
Superman morphs into Clark Kent to kick off the show.
Descente and Nike provided the few practical outfits.
Lynda Carter’s original WW costume, by far the most demure thing in the show.
Men and women of metal.
Did Robert Downey Jr. actually wear this suit?
Metallic supercop ladies…or something.
Fantasy vs reality.
Even Ghost Rider got in the show.
Another view of the rotunda statues.
Our new spring scarf!