The Costume Institute's spring 2017 exhibition examines the work of Japanese fashion designer Rei Kawakubo, known for her avant-garde designs and ability to challenge conventional notions of beauty, good taste, and fashionability. The thematic show features approximately 140 examples of Kawakubo's womenswear for Comme des Garçons dating from the early 1980s to her most recent collection.
Object/Subject considers hybrid bodies. Its focus is Kawakubo's collection Body Meets Dress—Dress Meets Body, which proposes a radical rethinking of the human form through down-padded garments of stretch nylon and polyurethane in a range of colors and patterns—including girlish bubblegum pink and powder blue gingham. Most of the paddings are arranged asymmetrically, creating bulbous swellings that present an illusion of dysmorphia and subvert the traditional language of the fashionable body (small waist, slim hips, pert bottom, flat stomach, and small, high breasts).
References to tumors and hunchbacks abound in reviews of the collection, which critics christened "lumps and bumps"—a moniker that suggests a body diseased, deformed, or monstrous. Morphologically, the collection blurs the boundaries between dress and body, object and subject. This effect is heightened in movement, a fact exploited by choreographer Merce Cunningham in the 40-minute dance Scenario, a collaboration with Kawakubo that premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on October 14, 1997. Kawakubo explained, "When the natural movements of dance are repelled and refuted, you get new forms."