For some, the first Monday in May is synonymous with the Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual fashion gala — a veritable feast of celebrities in themed couture that serves as a major fundraising opportunity and cuts the proverbial red ribbon for the Costume Institute’s annual exhibition. This year’s show, opening May 9, is titled “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” drawn from critic Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay “Notes on Camp.”
Yet for all the preparation that goes into fashion’s illustrious convergence of celebrity and art, the big question mark still hanging over the evening (a topic over which much digital ink has already been spilled) is how, exactly, to define camp. At a media preview for the exhibition on Monday, the Met’s Andrew Bolton laid out the difficulty in the task, quoting the oft-cited observation from Andy Medhurst: “Trying to define camp is like attempting to sit in the corner of a circular room.”
While Sontag’s essay provides a critical place to start, we’ve rounded up some of the quotes used within the exhibition that help gain an edge.
“What camp taste responds to is ‘instant character’…a person being one, very intense thing. This…helps account for the fact that opera and ballet are experienced as such rich treasures of camp, for neither of these forms can easily do justice to the complexity of human nature.” — Susan Sontag, 1964
“Camp [is] a third stream of taste, that encompasses the curious attraction that everyone – to some degree at least – has for the bizarre, the unnatural, the artificial and the blatantly outrageous.” — Thomas Meehan, 1965
“The horror genre, in particular, is susceptible to a camp interpretation. Not all horror films are camp, of course; only those which make the most stylish conventions for expressing instant feeling, thrills, sharply defined personality, outrageous and ‘unacceptable’ sentiments, and so on.” — Jack Babuscio, 1977
“Camp…is very serious – serious about maintaining the freedom to play, which is away of saying the freedom to live.” — J. Bryan Lowder, 2013
“Camp sees everything in quotation marks.” — Susan Sontag, 1964
Top Image: “Camp: Notes on Fashion." Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, BFA.com/Zach Hilty.