Manus x Machina – Metropolitan Museum of Art/ Costume Institute – Review

Thanks to our favorite guest blogger, Lynne Perrella, for another insightful review! – Joan

“Selection Process: The Genius of Refinement”
Manus x Machina – Fashion in an Age of Technology
Metropolitan Museum of Art/Costume Institute
May 5 – August 14, 2016


Story & Photos (below) by Lynne Perrella

Location, location, location – In every way, this new exhibition announced itself as “separate” and apart from the rest of the Museum.   Passing through the Medieval Sculpture Hall, we were lured by serene atmospheric music and drawn forward into a pale, vaulted, circular pavilion. This entrance (above) provides the centerpiece of a series of specially-constructed interconnecting spheres of galleries arranged on two levels.   A regal “altar-like” elevated runway in the opening gallery features a Lagerfeld wedding gown with a twenty-foot-long embellished train, a masterpiece of handwork and technology….while glass vitrines containing open volumes of Diderot’s 17th Century Encyclopedia of Costume Trades surround the platform. Over head, an illuminated dome provides an echo of the gown’s intricate embroidery motifs; affirming the cathedral-like mood of the exhibit. Fittingly reverent and elegant, this minimal first gallery forms the gateway into an exhibit that honors centuries of traditions and trades while predicting the future of Fashion and Technology. Endless scrims of crisp white fabric stretched over curvaceous Palladian-inspired arched superstructures and scaffolding define passageways leading to gallery-after-gallery of remarkable garments (historic and current) displayed on stately dress forms.

This exhibit is for those who savor The Journey, as well as The Destination.

[click images to enlarge]


It is about the hyper-focused activity of sketching-then-programming current-day cutting-edge “3-D textiles” as well as venerable traditions of anonymous craftspeople producing remarkable needlework, lace, and beyond-intricate tailoring.  As a collage artist, I was captivated by garments that feature materials ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime: Black rooster feathers, clear plastic drink straws, tiny branches of coral, luminescent paillettes, ostrich plumes, silicone-dipped gull skulls (seriously!) and more.  More traditional adornments (but equally fascinating) include intricate cut-work kidskin, delicate cloudlike pillow lace, layered hand-dyed petals and opalescent beading.  If a dress embellished with “blue plastic flowers” sends you running in the opposite direction, suspend your disbelief long enough to see Marc Jacobs’ delightfully-frothy creation for Louis Vuitton (2012) – and I guarantee you will be captivated.  And exquisite historic garments by Paul Poiret, Chanel and Saint Laurent added gravitas to the mix.   One of the circular galleries is devoted to the “think tank” aspect of Couture, and we were treated to a fascinating array of muslin toiles, Tyvek garments-in-progress, spontaneous examples of pin-draping and prototypes made of anything-at-hand. Genius-in-charge and curator, Andrew Bolton, has included this “academic” aspect of fashion, elevating the subject and inviting the viewer “back stage” into this rare world of exuberant innovation and (let’s face it) grueling dedication and drive. Juxtapositions are handled seamlessly with a row of Chanel’s classic boucle tweed suits from the Sixties displayed next to newly-designed computer-generated Lagerfeld faux-tweeds studded with crystals and edged with gilded passementerie.   Replete with pleats, diaphanous Fortuny “column” gowns from the Twenties, they hold court alongside Mary McFadden’s equally-elegant interpretations from the Eighties – joined by Issey Miyake’s ultra-colorful pleated “Flying Saucer” dress. Past…present…perfect.


Andrew Bolton, seemingly the master of everything, has brought together endless grace notes, visual references and influences–achieving a perfect balance of fascination and innovation, while creating a cool, calm, nuanced Temple of Fashion.  This is an exhibit that will be talked about and remembered.  And,  Bolton is a design expert worth watching.  This exhibition is a Summer treat–and worth the trip from anywhere–especially for those of us who are just  a train-ride away from Manhattan.   See it!

Lynne Perrella is a mixed-media artist, author and workshop instructor from Ancram, NY.
Artist’s website:
Metropolitan Museum of Art:


Click above to see curator Andrew Bolton talk about this exhibit



1 Comment

  • Lisa Renner says:

    Another wonderful article by Lynne,- I didn’t want it to end! Her colorful descriptions of the exhibit make me feel as if I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Keep ’em coming!!

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