Have you been Punk’d yet?
And by Punk’d, we do mean with a capital “P.”
If you haven’t seen “Punk: Chaos to Couture” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan through Aug. 14, by all means do so. It may not offer the pièce d’occasion – or the long lines – that last year’s brilliant blockbuster Alexander McQueen exhibit did. But it is a stunning study in contrasts and an evocation of a time (ah, the ’70s and ’80s) when hair was spiky, T-shirts were ripped, CBGB was the temple of music and its gods and goddesses had names like Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, The Clash, the Ramones and the Sex Pistols.
The punk aesthetic was a variation of the ’60s’ “Do your own thing,” with an edgy, S&M twist. Individuality was the watchword. And because punk was all about what you might make of it – as symbolized by its ultimate emblem, the safety pin – the true punk was able to play with what Shakespeare called “mighty opposites” – dark and light, hard and soft, leather and lace, black and white, concealing and revealing and yes, male and female. A true punk might pair a studded black motorcycle jacket, ripped, safety-pinned T, floral or plaid skirt and fishnet, lace or otherwise “hole-y” stockings. And that’s just the guys. (We’re kidding, of course, but you get the idea.)
The Met show – which is as much about the punk effect as it is about the actual period – captures the complementary quality of the movement in seven galleries that evoke everything from Manhattan clubs to ancient Greek temples, including one that recreates CBGB’s infamous gritty, graffiti-ed bathroom, where, Patti Smith said, everything happened. Only in 21st-century America could a place you wouldn’t want to be caught dead in become a work of art.
One gallery consists of a series of pink niches recessed with impressions of landfill detritus – bottles, cans and so forth. It’s all fantastic. And it serves some pretty fantastic clothes like Gianni Versace’s 1994 black, safety-pinned gown that Elizabeth Hurley wore so memorably in her Hugh Grant period. Seeing it on a mannequin crowned with what looks like a bearskin hat, you just want to rip it off and put it on (in the nicest, non-vandalizing way), because it embodies all the contradictions punk embraced, not the least of which was the need to appear tough and impenetrable and the willingness to be open and taken.
If you can’t get to “Punk,” you can still be punk this fall as the look is everywhere, particularly in the Rocker Chic salute by Neiman Marcus, locally in The Westchester, White Plains. There red is the new neutral and spikes, studs, chains, zippers and lace abound in accessories.
Only one thought remains: Can we in our spoon-fed, ultra-technological age surrender to the individualism that is the essence of the punk spirit?
For more, visit metmuseum.org and neimanmarcus.com.