Is nothing sacred? The Metropolitan Museum should apologise to the Vatican for Heavenly Bodies show

The Art Newspaper | Anna Somers Cocks

Poor old Vatican—it has been well and truly had. When the Metropolitan Museum in New York asked it for loans for an exhibition that would be “a dialogue between fashion and masterworks of medieval art in the museum’s collections to examine fashion’s ongoing engagement with the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism”, it cannot have expected the frivolous, ignorant and at times sacrilegious extravaganza that confronted Cardinal Timothy Dolan on the opening night of Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination (until 8 October). Let us draw a veil over the guests’ attire. While they must have been warmly encouraged by the show’s curator Andrew Bolton to go to such outrageous lengths, ultimately it was their choice whether to come with a Nativity scene (to mention just one example) on their heads or not.

What does this exhibition reveal about the Met? To start off with, the declared intention of the exhibition is a lie; there is no engagement with “the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism”. Gianni Versace’s Byzantine mosaic Madonna forming the upper body of a skimpy mini-dress has no relationship with devotion to the person venerated as the Mother of God, except perhaps to put two feeble fingers up to it. One exhibit is called Communion, with a chalice embroidered below the cleavage of a mousseline dress. Does its designer, Jean Paul Gaultier, know that communion is the most sacred part of the Catholic mass, a moment when the congregation falls to its knees?…read more

Image: Heavenly Bodies