The Met Gala and the Catholic Aesthetic Imagination

Rhianna highlights dress with mitre and half cope. Courtesy of NYTimes/AP.

It has been said that hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.  I would add that perhaps vulgarity is the tribute ugliness pays to beauty: to take art and its various forms and to reduce them to the banal and the insipid.

Last week I had read, after a friend sent it, an article from The Guardian regarding an upcoming exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination”.  It intrigued me for various reasons, but perhaps in nothing more than the link made between Catholic (mostly liturgical and paraliturgical) vesture and the world of High Fashion.  The designers made valid points about how fashion helps to convey status and importance in the context of society, and especially in a hierarchical society, where there may be a ‘Court’ or upper crust.  Bringing this into the realm of the Sacred, then, we see how vessels, vestments and architecture devoted to divine worship ennobles both the frail beings who carry out divine worship, and also lifts our minds out of the mundane and into the celestial.

Unfortunately, the art exhibit with its concomitant Met Gala succeeded in making a sow ear from a silk purse: exquisite religious imagery and cloth of the highest quality…just made tacky. Like unfeeling mannequins, they wear these robes, whose hearts and minds don’t seem to have the slightest clue as to what their significance is.

While I welcomed a sophisticated and illuminating discussion on the links between worship, fashion and art, I can only pray that the future exhibit is better than the Gala.

One more item:  I had read in another place that the Gala featured things like gilded (that is, real gold) chicken wings among the food served.  And the elites of this country can’t seem to understand why regular, working Americans despise these people so.