Friday, July 24, 2009

The Met: "The Pictures Generation" and "The Model as Muse"

So much for expectations. I had anticipated seeing The Pictures Generation at the Met for weeks and of course inexplicably put it off. I was determined not to wait until the very last minute again, so was able to go view the exhibit yesterday.

The problem was that I had assumed I knew what the exhibit was about. I imagined something similar to the format of the MoMA's Into the Sunset show which was a large spectrum of photography. But the name "The Pictures Generation" was much less literal than I had guessed so egg on my face.

The exhibit was composed of various media and many well known artists. I never get tired of viewing Cindy Sherman's work, and discovered some pieces by Barbara Kruger that I hadn't seen before. Robert Longo's striking images of men in business suits composited over blank backgrounds made me wonder if they were a source of inspiration for the Mad Men opening visuals.

There was lot to take in on just one viewing, which is characteristic of the Met. The show and the museum practically demand multiple visits.

A show that I unintentionally stumbled upon was The Model as Muse, an anthology of fashion photography.

It was interesting to see the progression of styles and evolution of trends throughout the eras. Though I admit to having trouble focusing on the exhibit while surrounded by a crowd. Maybe that's why I prefer to wait until a show is at the end of its run. An empty gallery is much more welcoming to me.

The most memorable moment was walking into one portion to find blacklit graffiti and Smells Like Teen Spirit blasting. It was the era of Generation X and grunge. Kate Moss was hailed as the unconventional beauty and thus the embodiment of the anti-establishment movement.

This irked me somewhat. When this was all happening, I recall the bemusement of everyone at how grunge was plagiarized by high fashion. How was anyone supposed to take it seriously? Elite fashion designers were mimicking the look of thrift store flannel and ripped jeans. That practice still exists today but on a somewhat more subtle level (ahem, Urban Outfitters). Seeing models strut down runways in grunge gear was a farce.

All my friends and I could do was shake our heads and laugh at how companies cluelessly tried to turn this alien trend into a commodity. The epitome had to be the Grunge Speak incident.

In retrospect, it was just another example of the revolution becoming the establishment. Nirvana upended Michael Jackson at the top of the charts and it signaled a changing of the guard. The dilemma of any underdog-turned-champion is that you lose that outsider persona and take on the mantle of the status quo.

Not sure how much I really got out of this exhibit but I think it's worth viewing. I've seen more intimate shows at the FIT galleries that I enjoyed more, but again the Met is all about grandeur of scale. Check it out, and prepare to be overwhelmed.

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