It’s clear that money is the ticket to fame and success in the world of culture, even — OK, maybe especially — if you’re not an artist. Cue the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s renaming of the newly renovated, soon-to-be-opened Costume Institute as the Anna Wintour Costume Center.
Wintour is a very (perhaps the most) talented woman in fashion. Her ability to edit and curate styles in the pages of American Vogue have earned her the respect she deserves, as well as some uncomfortable, misogynistic criticism. And all who care about the arts should certainly appreciate her altruistic efforts.
As a board member of the Costume Institute for 15 years, she’s done plenty of good for the Met. Aside from raising funds (to the tune of $125 million) and allocating resources, she’s the woman who would only let Kim Kardashian enter the museum’s hallowed halls if she wore this, proving that Wintour has a sense of humor — or at least a very subtle approach to torture (I’ll go with the latter).
But that doesn’t discount the fact that this all seems like a power play for publicity. Yes, that’s how and why almost all people get their names attached to cultural projects and institutions, but her influence on the museum has surely superseded quiet funding. With this official bestowment, how can we assume Wintour doesn’t have some (if not a lot) of creative control on the Institute now? It’s also not a leap to suggest that her philanthropic efforts are just as beneficial to her career and reputation as her work at Vogue.
And while her skills make sense in an editorial capacity, even at a “charity” event like Fashion’s Night Out, some of the more “popular” changes in curation at the Institute in recent years look more like her efforts than those of Met costume curator Andrew Bolton. We’ve seen the Met’s yearly costume exhibitions degrade into loosely themed displays of recent runway looks, celebrating commerce over history, and the hedonistic parade of celebrities at the Met Ball has arguably become one of the most notable things, to the general masses, that the museum does now. (There will be no E! coverage for the upcoming Antonio Canova exhibition, let’s be real.)
Perhaps this is naïve, but a respectful thing to do would have been to name the museum’s Costume Institute after the dearly departed fashion giant Diana Vreeland, who served as a special consultant to the Institute for almost 20 years until her death, aiding in the organization of many exhibitions that surely helped it become the fashion institution it is today. If anything, it would seem more reverential to those who paved the way and less of a modish ploy.
But that’ll never happen, clearly. We just have to face our grim future of a Photoshop-friendly Wintour Costume Center at the Met.