The Rihanna-Hosted 2018 Met Gala Theme is ‘Fashion and the Catholic Imagination’

The accompanying exhibition will feature garments borrowed from the Vatican, as well as designer pieces informed by Catholic aesthetics.
By Whitney Bauck

Next year’s Met Gala theme has officially been confirmed: The title of the Costume Institute‘s much-anticipated spring exhibition is “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.”

The exhibition will feature ecclesiastical garb borrowed from the Vatican, religious art from the Met’s own collection and 150 designer garments that pay aesthetic homage to Catholicism. Rather than being contained in one gallery, the exhibition will be spread over three locations: the Met’s Costume Center, its medieval galleries and further uptown at the Met Cloisters. According to The New York Times, the exhibition will be the Costume Institute’s largest exhibition to date; depending on how it’s executed, it may also be the most polarizing.

“We know it could be controversial for right wing or conservative Catholics and for liberal Catholics,” curator Andrew Bolton told the Times.

But president and chief executive of the Met Daniel H. Weiss noted that he has “confidence that the exhibition will inspire understanding, creativity and, along the way, constructive dialogue, which is precisely a museum’s role in our civil society.”

However provocative or not the exhibition turns out to be, it could hardly be more so than the history of fashion’s relationship with the Catholic church. From Dolce & Gabbana sending religious imagery down the runway to pop stars like Lady Gaga and Madonna using clothing to set themselves up as new spiritual icons, fashion has long borrowed heavily from the church’s rich visual history.

And the fact that Bolton consulted local Catholic leadership in New York, not to mention partnered with the Vatican for parts of the exhibition, may help ease tensions felt by the faithful.

“The Roman Catholic Church has been producing and promoting beautiful works of art for centuries,” director of the Holy See press office Greg Burke told the Times. “Most people have experienced that through religious paintings and architecture. This is another way of sharing some of that beauty that rarely gets seen.”

Only time will tell whether the exhibition will be fully embraced by both the fashion world and the Catholic church alike. Either way, the First Monday in May is sure to make as big a splash as ever. The gala will be co-hosted by RihannaDonatella Versace(whose label is co-sponsoring the show) and Amal Clooney. They will be joined by the Patron Saint of the Met Gala, Anna Wintour, and a small handful of museum trustees and sponsors.


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