Last week the long-anticipated fundraising gala for the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute kicked off with a collaboration featuring French street artist JR. The performance and installation were debuted on co-chair Timothée Chalamet’s Instagram account, before hordes of in vogue celebrities descended on the yellow carpet.
After two years of absence due to Covid-19, the 2021 exhibition “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” explores the expressive and diverse fashion of the United States. Responding to this, the gala tackled the theme of “American independence” and began with Chalamet wandering around the Frick Madison building.
After surveying the Fragonard galleries, the actor burst through an American flag paper banner by JR. The special performance included various other large-scale monochrome pastings arranged on the floors of the museum, as well as photographs printed and installed across doorways.
“We enter in an American flag, to find a place, an identity, a position, a future, between the stripes and the stars,” explained JR. “To get to the end, we need to confront our rifts, our flaws, those of our nation, of our family and our own cracks which have been amplified by two years of loneliness, anger, fear, confrontation.”
JR joined Chalamet as he made his way through the museum. At points the floor pastings gave the illusion that the pair were balancing precariously on plinths or peering down into cavernous cracks. But despite his real-life appearance at the gala, JR’s real identity remains unconfirmed. Very little is known about his background, apart from his birthplace (Paris) and that he began his career as a graffiti artist before moving to a photographic collage technique. He once said the street was “the largest art gallery in the world.”
By the end of the performance, Chalamet had met up with his fellow co-chairs: the musician Billie Eilish, who wore a Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) inspired Oscar de la Renta gown; the athlete Naomi Osaka, who wore a custom Louis Vuitton dress and cape; and Presidential Inauguration poet Amanda Gorman, who wore a Statue of Liberty-inspired Vera Wang gown.
Celebrities and politicians alike then walked the carpet to the coveted event. New York Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney declared her aim to pass the Equal Rights Amendment across her outfit, while New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a dress that proclaimed: “TAX THE RICH“. Like a piece of walking artwork, Schitt’s Creek actor Dan Levy wore an ensemble designed by Loewe’s Jonathan Anderson and based on an untitled work by the American artist and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992). Native American model Quannah Chasinghorse provided much-needed representation for Indigenous people, wearing a golden gown designed by Peter Dundas, who said “I love how she makes her heritage such a strong part of her visual identity, which I realize we are missing in fashion.”
The Met’s “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” is open from 18 September 2021 to 5 September 2022.