Brow Beat

Harry Styles, Lady Gaga, and Serena Williams Are the Celebrity Co-Chairs of Next Year’s Camp-Themed Met Gala

Lon Chaney dressed as the Red Death in a still from the Technicolor sequence of Phantom of the Opera.
Lon Chaney’s performance in the masked ball sequence from The Phantom of the Opera is campy, right? Universal

The Orange Death has long devastated the country. No president has ever been so stupid, or so hideous. Blood is his avatar and his seal—the madness and horror of blood. There are sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution.
The scarlet stains upon the hat of the victim are the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress, and termination of the disease has at least two more years to go.

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But the Metropolitan Museum of Art is happy and dauntless and sagacious, according to the New York Times. On May 6, pop stars Lady Gaga and Harry Styles, tennis star Serena Williams, Vogue editor Anna Wintour, and Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele will summon to the museum a thousand hale and light-hearted celebrities from among the knights and dames of the wealthy, and with these will retire to the deep seclusion of the museum for a ball of the most unusual magnificence. They are the co-chairs for the 2019 Met Gala, the exclusive opening night party for an extensive and glorious exhibition entitled “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” the creation of the Costume Institute’s eccentric yet august taste, and also their love of Susan Sontag. The courtiers, before entering, will show off lavish and expensive outfits for the entertainment of those left outside with the Orange Death. The curator of the Costume Institute, Andrew Bolton, explained the theme of the gala and its accompanying exhibit in a proclamation to the Times:

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We are going through an extreme camp moment, and it felt very relevant to the cultural conversation to look at what is often dismissed as empty frivolity but can be actually a very sophisticated and powerful political tool, especially for marginalized cultures. … Whether it’s pop camp, queer camp, high camp or political camp—Trump is a very camp figure—I think it’s very timely.

Anna Wintour has resolved to leave no means of ingress to the sudden impulses of despair or frenzy from the plebes. A strong and exclusive guest list will girdle it in. The gala will be amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers will bid defiance to the poors and the news cycle alike. The external world will take care of itself. In the meantime it is folly to grieve or think. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, along with the exhibit’s corporate underwriter Gucci, will provide all the appliances of pleasure. There will be balloons, there will be improvisatori, there will be ballet-dancers, there will be musicians, there will be Beauty, there will be wine, there will be Camp. All these and security will be within. Without is the “Orange Death.”

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It will be a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell of the room in which the exhibit is to be held. It is on the second floor—the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall. In many museums, however, there is only one room named for Iris and B. Gerald Cantor, so that the view of the whole Iris and B. Gerald Cantor section is scarcely impeded. Here the case is very different; as might be expected from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s love of its donors. The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor rooms are so irregularly scattered that one’s vision embraces but little more than one at a time. These rooms have placards bearing names that vary in accordance with the prevailing art and decorations of the chamber in which they are placed. That on the upmost extremity, for example, is a garden on a roof—and it is vividly labeled the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden. The second chamber is nineteenth-century in its sculpture and decorative arts, and here the placard reads “Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Galleries for Nineteenth-Century Sculpture and Decorative Arts.” The third chamber is a B. Gerald Cantor Sculpture Gallery throughout, and so is its placard. The fourth is placardless pending further donations from the Cantor family—the fifth is too—the sixth belongs to the Sacklers. The seventh gallery, the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, is on the second floor, and until May, its contents may as well be closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hang all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. In this chamber will be found the 175 pieces of art, divided into two sections, that will make up the “Camp: Notes on Fashion” exhibition. The first section of the gallery will trace camp’s history from Versailles to Stonewall, while the second section will display a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances produced by contemporary designers expressing a camp sensibility. The revelers will see outfits from Charles Frederick Worth, Balenciaga, Prada, and Demna Gvasalia that are ghastly in the extreme, producing so wild a look upon those who wear them, that there will be few of the company bold enough to set foot within their runway collections at all.

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It is within this gallery, also, that there will stand against the western wall, a gigantic iPhone of ebony. Its Twitter app will scroll down and refresh with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the president makes a tweet, and the calm is to be broken, there will come from the brazen lungs of the iPhone a sound which will be clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each new tweet, the musicians of the orchestra will be constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to hearken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce will cease their evolutions; and there will be a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and while the chime of the app yet rings, it will be observed that the giddiest grow pale, and the more aged and sedate pass their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation. But when the echoes have fully ceased, a light laughter at once will pervade the assembly; the musicians will look at each other and smile as if at their own nervousness and folly, and make whispering vows, each to the other, that the next alert from the iPhone should produce in them no similar emotion; and then there will come yet another tweet from the president, and then will be the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.

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But, in spite of these things, it promises to be a gay and magnificent revel. The tastes of Anna Wintour are peculiar. She has a fine eye for color and effects. Her plans are bold and fiery, and her conceptions glow with barbaric lustre. There are some who think her mad. His followers feel that she is not. It is necessary to hear and see and touch her to be sure she he is not.

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She will direct, in great part, the movable embellishments of the museum, upon occasion of this great fete; and although the scenographer Jan Versweyveld will design the exhibit itself, it will be Wintour’s guiding taste that will give character to the masqueraders. Be sure they will be grotesque. There will be much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm—just as there was earlier this year. There will be arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There will be delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There will be much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the museum will stalk, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And Darkness and Decay and the Orange Death will hold illimitable dominion over all.

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