Inside the Met's New Exhibit, 'Punk: Chaos to Couture'

Richard Hell meets Chanel in controversial new display
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John Lydon of Sex Pistols in 1976; Junya Watanabe (Japanese, born 1961), fall/winter 2006–7.
Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Ray Stevenson/Rex USA; Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Catwalking

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Hung to Dry

"Punk: From Chaos to Couture" is careful to give its fashions an irreverent display to match their counterculture origins. Mannequins have wildly feathered heads and spiky accessories, and X-Ray Spex and others boom from the speakers. Still, it is very odd to see the ripped, bottomless cowboys of Vivienne Westwood's most famous T-shirt hung up at the Met, millions of dollars' worth of lighting really setting their depravity aglow (she still sells a variation of it). Quotes from the punk heyday abound: McLaren sings Richard Hell's praises as a "wonderful, bored, drained, scarred, dirty guy."

Richard Hell never spent $2,000 on a Burberry leather jacket with spikes, but maybe that's why he was bored. The quotes seem a twofold device, a nod made by the Met to the institutionalization (and inherent uncoolness) of any subculture set to its staging, and it is a very artful display, but the discordance never leaves the viewer or asks necessary questions about the nature of either entity.

Seen here: Sex Pistols singer Johnny Rotten in 1976; Junya Watanabe look from fall/winter 2006–7.

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