Not my first time visiting the MET but this weekend as part of thesis studies, I explored the new exhibit of Manus x Machina, a fashion gallery highlighting evolutions in fashion design and machining over the last century. Initially not that interested in the idea (as well I lets just say clothing wise I’m more utility over high fashion) though due to the class and seeing how technologies are being integrated in this field I suppose learning a bit more about the history and as Anthony Deen highlights “how it is presented” won’t hurt to study. After spending about two hours exploring both the main exhibit and a few around main area my feeling were split. I do think that it was worth seeing as how pieces presented were interesting, themed, and eye-catching; on another not though it taught me what not to do as the layout and disconnected form of some of the areas caught me confused and lost at times.
Looking at the exhibits themselves Anthony was right in that much insight was gained from studying them. In particular, the secondary pieces were unique. As depicted below, these use a three part information system to display the dresses: The dress itself, a video mapped around the article, and an information blurb next to the stage. This does a really good job at for me when trying to both understand and appreciate the work as when you’re trying to highlight something. Small details and embroidery play’s just as a significant part as the overall dress so using up close video projection mapped around it was a great idea also filling in the empty space.
The other main aspect of the side exhibits which I like is the layout of material. On most of the exhibits, the informational type was at the bottom seen first, which then pulls your eyes upward letting the viewer fully appreciate all the details of the dress. After when your eyes hit the ceiling the fo-Rib Valued ceiling pulls your eyes back down into the dress restarting the cycle. Beyond the side exhibits the main piece also hints at this idea from it’s platform slanted upwards into the main dress instead of a flat base. Figuring out not just a smart open layout but also keeping your viewer’s attention looping into and back onto the product itself was well played and an aspect I hope to mimic in the coming months.
My Main problem with the exhibit comes not from the pieces but with the overall theme and layout of its exterraneous details. Based on my time in the gallery it was clear that at least on the main floor they were going for themes of ethereal, historical and atmospheric in tone. From the soft choir music in the background, rib-vaulted cieling (as previous discussed) instead of the more common flat ceiling, and basically flat white walls this was clear.
While I can understand the approach…sort of in addition to those themes I was talking to one of the guards there and he described it perfectly as sterile. Many of the pieces felt unapproachable, beyond me as it were and in other cases boring without context. The main thing that added to this feeling is that every other exhibit in the MET the walls are colored and welcoming. This exhibit was monotone and stark. These feelings were only highlighted when going to the lower floor, where the ethereal feelings and themes were quickly replaced with modernism, flat forms, angular walls, and even more stark white interiors. To me, I found this jarring without any reason only coming to understand the transition when leaving the area. A smoother transition between the two feels required for it to make sense.