MoMu Museum, Antwerp
With a slew of fashion exhibits being staged across the United States and often outside the boundaries of traditional costume and fashion museums (the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Meadows Museum in Dallas; the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles) discussions about the relevance and appropriateness of fashion within the museum come up once again. Virginia Postrel has written an interesting article on the topic in this month’s Atlantic Monthly. Titled “Dress Sense,” the article debates why fashion stirs up such strong reactions both positive and negative, once it’s placed in the museum. Postrel argues that the uneasiness surrounding fashion and museums is ultimately an uneasiness about markets. She also points out how recurrent discussions of fashion’s appropriateness in museums (particularly art museums) end up preventing more interesting and critical discussions on the validity of the exhibits themselves. A similar point was also made by Christopher Breward in an article on the British staging of the controversial Armani exhibit (Guardian 2003), in which the British scholar also notes how criticism often arose primarily from the strong associations between fashion and commerce. This association remains perhaps most problematic within the art museum, where the relation between art, commerce and the museum however strong and well-established tends to be, if not hidden, at least de-emphasized. Thus, the embattled relation between fashion and the museums (particularly of the art variety) could be partially attributed to the fact that by entering the art museum, fashion ("tainted" by the commercial) functions as a mirror of sorts, and “unveils” the preexisting ties between museums, markets and commerce.