Dear Anna Wintour: The Met Gala 2019 Was ‘Off’

 

The red (pink) carpet last night at the annual Met Gala was… “off.” Intentionally. 

The theme of the 2019 Met Gala, an annual fundraiser to benefit the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York City, took inspiration from Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay “Notes on Camp.”

CAMP: Notes on Fashion, photo: Met Museum

CAMP: Notes on Fashion, photo: Met Museum

Graphic: Helen Papagiannis

Graphic: Helen Papagiannis

This quote from Sontag particularly stood out for me (the 8th of 58 notes in the essay) as it well describes the fantastical side of Augmented Reality (AR) of "things-being-what-they-are-not”. It’s also perfect for my game “Real or AR,” which we play weekly on Instagram and on stage at my keynotes.

As the night went on with a parade of gold and silver lamé, I was beginning to wonder if the guests had read Sontag’s notes and understood the theme (even Dame Anna Wintour herself, editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine and a co-chair of the Met Gala for more than 20 years, said “Although, to be honest, this theme’s exhibition has created a little bit of confusion.” 

And then Janelle Monáe dressed by Christian Siriano appeared. Yes! It was the Surrealism I had been waiting for. René Magritte (Surrealism) met Pablo Picasso (Cubism) in this custom deconstructed portrait dress. Perhaps it took a cue from Picasso’s “Head of a Woman” (1960) painting in the Met’s collection?

Janelle Monáe, credit: Chris Siriano

Janelle Monáe, credit: Chris Siriano

 
“Head of a Woman” 1960 by Pablo Picasso, painting in the Met Museum collection

“Head of a Woman” 1960 by Pablo Picasso, painting in the Met Museum collection

Monáe and Siriano embodied Magritte’s iconic painting and sentiment from “The Treachery of Images” (1929) — also known as ‘ceci n’est pas une pipe’ or ‘this is not a pipe’ — married with Sontag’s statement:

10. Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It’s not a lamp, but a “lamp”; not a woman, but a “woman.” To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater.
“The Treachery of Images”, 1929, René Magritte

“The Treachery of Images”, 1929, René Magritte

Tracee Ellis Ross was the next to wow. The actor, styled by Karla Welch, was a work of ART holding an ornate gold frame around her face. “One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art,” Sontag noted, making reference to Oscar Wilde’s “Phrases & Philosophies for the Use of the Young” (1894). Ross was both. Her costume was a beautiful reference to Lorraine O’Grady’s joyful performance art piece “Art Is…” in Harlem’s African-American Day Parade, September 1983.

As described on O’Grady’s website, “It’s impetus had been to answer the challenge of a non-artist acquaintance that ‘avant-garde art doesn’t have anything to do with black people.’” Fifteen young actors and dancers with empty gold picture frames connected with the crowds expressing, “Frame me, make me art!” and “That’s right, that’s what art is, WE’re the art!” Thank you to F. Quick (@quick13) on Twitter for sharing the cultural nuance of Ross’s red carpet look as pointed out by Shelby Ivey Christie.

Tracee Ellis Ross, photo: Met Museum

Tracee Ellis Ross, photo: Met Museum

Lorraine O’Grady, “Art Is…” 1983. Photo: Lorraine O’Grady

Lorraine O’Grady, “Art Is…” 1983. Photo: Lorraine O’Grady

Then it was Jared Leto’s turn, whose entrance had us seeing double. Leto was accompanied by his second self, carrying a wax mannequin head bearing his resemblance. It was a look we saw at the Gucci Fall/Winter 2018 show in Milan.

Leto must have read Sontag’s notes, “Indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration […] the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization.”

Jared Leto, photo: Met Museum

Jared Leto, photo: Met Museum

Gucci Fall/Winter 2018 show in Milan, photo: Vogue

Gucci Fall/Winter 2018 show in Milan, photo: Vogue

But the star of the show was clearly Ezra Miller. I was waiting for the AR face filters influence on the red carpet...and here it was! Sontag herself would have SWOONED for this look! It was perfectly Camp.

The illusion makeup by Mimi Choi (Miller hid seven eyes behind his mask) paired with custom Burberry designed by Riccardo Tisci was simply out of this world. “It is the love of the exaggerated, the off, of things-being-what-they-are-not,” as Sontag wrote. I was surprised we didn’t see more illusion makeup on the Met Gala guests (Choi is one of the artists who was featured in my game “Real or AR”). Together Miller and Choi truly took the prize.

Ezra Miller, credit: Met Museum

Ezra Miller, credit: Met Museum

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From the blink and wink of an eye in Monáe’s costume, to reframing perspectives with Ross, doubled vision as seen in Leto’s look, and masked multiple eyes from Choi and Miller, these Met Gala guests took note: “True, the Camp eye has the power to transform experience,” said Sontag.

And as we dream up and build a new reality with technologies like Augmented Reality, perhaps we should take a few cues from Sontag’s “Notes on Camp.” Why merely double reality (think mirrorworld) when we have the opportunity to create something other worldly, “to do something extraordinary”? Besides, it could be a lot more fun.

Helen Papagiannis

BONUS: Here are two Met Gala themed Snapchat AR face filters you can try

 
 
Helen Papagiannis