A question proposed nearly 73 years ago will be revisited this fall. The original query came from Moravian architect Bernard Rudofsky, who curated the 1944 MoMA exhibition Are Clothes Modern?, which explored dress in an entirely untraditional sense. (The press release, available online, stated that the purpose was to focus attention on clothes as though they were an “utterly new phenomenon,” questioning the purpose of things like buttons, pockets, and heels.) Since then, the art museum has never addressed design in that kind of scope—until now. Slated to open October 1, MoMA will introduce a new exhibition called Items: Is Fashion Modern? that will examine 111 items of clothing and accessories that have impacted society throughout the past century. Like Rudofsky’s, the exhibit will explore how certain pieces (the white T-shirt, for example, or a pair of Levi’s 501s) relate to things like culture, functionality, politics, labor, technology, and the economy.
“It’s about painting a portrait of the system of fashion through the objects we can all relate to,” said Paola Antonelli, MoMA’s senior curator of the department of architecture and design. “The whole exhibition oscillates between high fashion and very universal garments between the collective and the individual.”
Antonelli said the exhibition began as a list she created a few years ago, when she started scribbling down things like Converse and the beret and other “garments that changed the world.” (It was an idea, she noted, spurred by MoMA’s 2004 installation, Humble Masterpieces, which featured everyday objects like M&Ms, Post-It notes, and paper clips.)