I had an interesting visit to the Met last Saturday. Hoping to take advantage of the 9 p.m. closing, I went with a friend around 8 – a bit late, admittedly, because we had lingered a bit on our way – only to find the line out the Great Hall and down almost all the way to 84th street – two blocks long, and what’s more, it was coiled up threefold like a snake for much of that length. I had never seen it like this in all my born days, and this was August, when there are lots of tourists of course but a large percentage of the New Yorkers are on vacation – not high season for a Saturday night at the Met. I asked an attractive woman waiting on the line what was happening. She told me this line was for the Alexander McQueen exhibit, which I had indeed heard some buzz about somewhere or other. ”But doesn’t the museum close in an hour?” ”They’ve extended the hours until midnight.” This was good news to us – we thought we’d be rushed to see something, but now we had an entire evening ahead of us in the museum. The line was moving, so we decided to wait on it.
And I was fairly excited, because from the look of the crowd, the galleries of the museum would be all our own. You could tell this was not the Met crowd – it was the Fashion crowd instead. It was probably eighty-five percent women, almost all under thirty and almost all attractive and well-dressed. I would presume that the men on the line were disproportionately gay as well. I am only occasionally in such a crowd, and I quite enjoyed interacting with everyone around me, including one guy ahead of us who had an ingenious umbrella which had a built-in watercatcher, obviating the need for an umbrella bag (I think this is the product – who would have thought there were still major improvements which could be made to an umbrella?).
It turned out I was correct that this crowd was not there for the galleries, because once we had made our way to the Great Hall and paid our $1 for two buttons (suggested admission for two is now $50), a security guard told us to go to a particular place for the exhibit. ”We’re not that interested in the exhibit, really, we want to see the galleries.” ”But the galleries are closed!” she replied. And so it was. Everything was closed except this one exhibit, though in fact there were so many people there the exhibit space could not hold them, and the lines stretched through large portions of the inside of the museum as well (we were told it was a three-hour wait once you had your buttons – in other words, we probably wouldn’t have seen it if we tried, as arriving at 8 p.m. was too late to see it by midnight).
I remember fighting with some people in college who thought of fashion as high art (I did not). Now I don’t care much one way or another what you call it, but that there is a difference I still don’t doubt. Fashion is much more temporary, which is of course why great artists often like the nude, which dispenses with this problem. Like everyone else I appreciate the fashions of our time and find them generally appealing, but find those of other periods – even periods I have lived through – utterly silly. A beautiful person tends to be beautiful in all ages, unless they are too fashionable, because the fashion of one age is ridiculous in another. And I have never much cared for the “woman as coat rack” ideal. In looking at McQueen’s works (online) I am struck by how necessary a vapid model is for their effectiveness: any real personality would conflict with clothes so extravagant. In general such clothes are best on mannequins. But they are nice to look at anyway. If the waits had not been so exorbitant I would have taken a peek for sure. And it was nice to see people lined up just to get into the Met, and impressive to see how many people were willing to wait in the rain just for a taste of McQueen’s work. It made it clear just how vast the fashion industry is – “many, so many, I had not thought beauty had done up so many.”