Why Is This White T-Shirt Coming to the Museum of Modern Art?

White tees, little black dresses, and Levi's, oh my!

White T-Shirt.Photo: Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.
White T-Shirt.
Photo: Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.

In news that’s sure to entice style mavens and art historians alike, the Museum of Modern Art recently announced plans of mounting a full exhibition dedicated to relics of the fashion world.

At the tail end of 2017, the museum’s second floor contemporary gallery spaces will be filled with t-shirts, Levi jeans, and little black dresses, among other items drawn from the 20th and 21st centuries. The exhibition, titled “Items: Is Fashion Modern?,” will include a selection of 99 garments and accessories.

“Historically, the museum has deliberately chosen not to engage with fashion in its galleries or its repositories, wary of those most anti-modern terms with which it is often derided: ephemeral, seasonal, faddish,” wrote exhibition curator Paola Antonelli in a blog entry on the MoMA’s website. As the institution’s senior curator of the department of architecture and design, Antonelli has developed a track record for elevating the role of design, organizing such shows as “SAFE: Design Takes on Risk” and “Design and the Elastic Mind.”

Klaus Maertens. Doc Martens. Classic Airwear introduced in 1960.<br>Photo: Courtesy of Melanie Levi via the Museum of Modern Art.

Klaus Maertens. Doc Martens. Classic Airwear introduced in 1960.
Photo: Courtesy of Melanie Levi via the Museum of Modern Art.

To demonstrate fashion’s multi-faceted historical contributions to modernity (or, more specifically, our contemporary world), Antonelli explained, “each of the 99 items will be explored along three tiers: archetype, stereotype, and prototype.”

High-fashion turned art-object is hardly new, and has led to a string of compelling museum exhibitions in recent years. North of MoMA on the Upper East Side’s Museum Mile, the Jewish Museum is currently hosting a show dedicated to the work of Isaac Mizrahi. Last year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art offered “China Through the Looking Glass,” a hugely-popular exhibition of haute couture costumes inspired by Chinese art objects that surpassed even the huge attendance figures set by another Met fashion exhibition, featuring the work of Alexander McQueen.


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