I took a day off on Friday for my annual memorial visit to The Met in May to honor my late brother. I’ve really come to look forward to these quiet, solo visits to the museum and it just so happens that it coincides with the opening month of the Costume Institute’s annual exhibition. Church and religion is complicated for me (as it is for many people), and I was even a former Catholic school girl for 7 years (though I am not Catholic), but I do love the ritual and pageantry of it. The decision to put the collection in the Medieval Sculpture Hall was smart as it gives the dresses room to breathe in a space that boasts huge vaulted ceilings, stone arches and the dramatic medieval choir gate as backdrops. There is sound too, which added some atmospheric intensity. The music was an important addition and tied the exhibit together, I thought, otherwise it had the risk of feeling emotionless with the dresses placed in the gallery just for the sake of context.
The Medieval Sculpture Hall is always a stop on my annual memorial trip. Maybe it feels like a surrogate for church on a day where I tend to float around hard questions about life in my head. There’s a point up in the ceiling where, on a sunny day, you can catch a sunbeam starburst through one of the windows if you position your body just at the right angle. I always look for that light. This room (as well as The Temple of Dendur) transports me back to when I was 18 as we were in these rooms every single week for art history class during freshman year of art school. Too many memories, too many ghosts, and extreme nostalgia — so what is there left to do but sit on the stone benches and let it all pass through you?
If you’re visiting the Heavenly Bodies exhibit, make sure you to down to the Costume Institute on the lower level to view the papal garments and headdresses. I read that it took the curator, Andrew Bolton, a dozen visits to the Vatican to be granted access for the papal vestments on loan. For this reason, it feels like a rare treat to see them up close. The number of diamonds and gems encrusted on some of the crowns are mind boggling (19,000). The intricate embroidery on the chasubles are equally mind blowing and loaded when you consider that many of them took more than a dozen women up to 16 years to embroider. The exhibit continues at The Cloisters and I’m looking forward to taking a trip up there (with the family this time) to see how the exhibit feels in that space. We never need an excuse to visit the Cloisters, but from the photos I’ve seen so far, the dresses — some placed strategically in context near altars and some floating high up on stilts — look like ghostly apparitions. It’s pretty much right up my aesthetic alley.