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The Met to celebrate rebirth and renewal with 2024 exhibition

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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‘Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion’ exhibition – ‘Tulipes Hollandaises’ evening cloak, Charles Frederick Worth (French, born England, 1825–1895) Credits: The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Nick Knight, 2023

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has unveiled that its spring 2024 exhibition and the theme for the Costume Institute Benefit, better known as the Met Gala, will be ‘Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion’.

The exhibit at The Met Fifth Avenue will run from May 10 until September 2, 2024, and will explore notions of rebirth and renewal, using nature as a metaphor for the impermanence of fashion.

The exhibition, sponsored by video sharing app TikTok, will feature original research, conservation analysis, and diverse technologies “to revive and explore the sensory capacities of masterworks in the Museum’s collection”. This will include using augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and computer-generated imagery to traditional formats of x-rays, video animation, light projection, and soundscapes.

Around 250 garments and accessories spanning four centuries will be on display, visually united by iconography related to nature, which the exhibition organisers said “will serve as a metaphor for the fragility and ephemerality of fashion”.

Cyclical themes of rebirth and renewal will be at the heart of the exhibition, with organisers saying that they will breathe new life into these storied objects “through creative and immersive activations designed to convey the smells, sounds, textures, and motions of garments that can no longer directly interact with the body”.

Max Hollein, The Met’s Marina Kellen French Director and chief executive, said in a statement: “The Met's innovative spring 2024 Costume Institute exhibition will push the boundaries of our imagination and invite us to experience the multisensory facets of a garment, many of which get lost when entering a museum collection as an object.

“Sleeping Beauties will heighten our engagement with these masterpieces of fashion by evoking how they feel, move, sound, smell and interact when being worn, ultimately offering a deeper appreciation of the integrity, beauty and artistic brilliance of the works on display.”

Met Gala 2024 to celebrate “sleeping beauties”

The exhibition will be a series of self-contained galleries, each exploring a different theme inspired by the natural world. Within each space, historical fashions will be juxtaposed with their contemporary counterparts in an immersive environment intended to engage a visitor’s sense of sight, smell, touch, and hearing.

For instance, the walls of one space will be embossed with the foliate, vegetal, and insectoid embroidery of an Elizabethan bodice, while the floors of another will be animated with snakes that frame the neckline of an early 20th-century sequined dress, and the ceiling of one room will be projection-mapped with a Hitchcockian swarm of black birds that encircle a black tulle evening dress designed by Madeleine Vionnet just before the outbreak of World War II.

Punctuating the exhibition will be a series of “sleeping beauties,” garments that can no longer be dressed on mannequins due to their extreme fragility, which The Met said will be displayed in glass “coffins” allowing visitors to analyse their various states of deterioration as if under a microscope. Select “beauties” will be brought back to life by the illusion technique known as Pepper’s ghost.

The Met is working in collaboration with Andrew Bolton, photographer Nick Knight and Showstudio to develop and realise the various technological activations. Architecture firm Leong Leong will design the exhibition with The Met’s Design Department and ST smell artist and researcher Sissel Tolaas will contribute her work with smell to bring select garments to life.

Andrew Bolton, Wendy Yu curator in charge at The Costume Institute, added: “When an item of clothing enters our collection, its status is changed irrevocably. What was once a vital part of a person’s lived experience is now a motionless ‘artwork’ that can no longer be worn or heard, touched, or smelled.

“The exhibition endeavours to reanimate these artworks by re-awakening their sensory capacities through a diverse range of technologies, affording visitors sensorial ‘access’ to rare historical garments and rarefied contemporary fashions. By appealing to the widest possible range of human senses, the show aims to reconnect with the works on display as they were originally intended—with vibrancy, with dynamism, and ultimately with life.”

The Met Gala will take place on May 6, with the ‘Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion’ exhibition opening to the public on May 10.

Met Gala
Metropolitan Museum of Art