‘Is Fashion Modern?’ is MoMA’s first fashion exhibition since 1944

MoMA’s latest exhibit named itself after the question it poses: Is fashion modern? It’s a bit of a confusing question and one that is almost more rhetorical than it is answerable — but that seems to be the point.

Is Fashion Modern? is MoMA’s first fashion exhibition since, unbelievably, 1944. That year, architect and curator Bernard Rudofsky staged Are Clothes Modern? Vogue writes that the new show reframes that original question with both a wide-angle lens and taxonomic rigor with the goal of distilling the entire field of wearable design into 111 influence pieces.

The pieces featured truly run the gamut, and they encompass more than just clothing. Everything from Spanx to a Cartier Love bracelet, flare-legged Lululemon pants to Pierre Cardin tunics are on display. Even a Sony Walkman and Bain de Soleil SPF 4 sunscreen (a throwback to a suntan friendly time) are included. Tattoos are an unexpected but interesting addition to the exhibit. In an interview with Vogue, curator Paola Antonelli describes how the show goes from “tribal tattoos to very contemporary tattoos like the ones by Roxx” and even features the two cat paws that rapper Eve has on her chest.

What is perhaps most interesting about the exhibit is that it’s not taking on the usual fashion-as-art theme. Instead, it focuses on objects and their histories — and the threads connecting those stories. As the show’s materials describe, the exhibition “considers the many relationships between fashion and functionality, culture, aesthetics, politics, labor, identity, economy, and technology.”

As Laia Garcia of Refinery29 points out, figuring out which items weren’t included is almost as interesting as the exhibit itself. The curators invite visitors to suggest their own personal additions via social media. “Fashion tells our stories, and as long as we keep wearing what we are wearing, the stories will continue to be told,” Garcia writes about Is Fashion Modern? “In that way, fashion is both timeless and ephemeral — truly an extension of what it means to be human.”

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