The Met Museum's Spring 2016 Costume Institute exhibition, Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, explores how designers are reconciling the handmade and the machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear.
The exhibition is presented in the Robert Lehman Wing, which posed a number of unique environmental challenges for the exhibition: excessive daylighting unconducive to textile exhibition, split levels, a corridor condition lacking dedicated display walls and an eclectic material palette.
A white, translucent volume was inserted into the existing brick and stone corridors of the Lehman Wing, softening its hard geometries. Echoing the sectional relationship of a central clerestory and perimeter naves, the resulting ghost cathedral resonates with the classical language of the adjacent gallery. A raised platform built across the atrium provides continuous circulation and a 2,300 sf central gallery– an unprecedented intervention. Upon arrival, a domed clerestory orients visitor’s with a 2014 Chanel wedding dress by Karl Lagerfeld that embodies the exhibition’s theme. Details of the 20-foot train’s baroque pattern are projected on the dome’s black out scrim, recalling the Sistine Chapel. Four chapel-style pochés provide an area to focus on case studies.
The perforated membrane material of the ghost cathedral offers tensile flexibility required for the dome geometries as well as varying degrees of transparency. Lit from the front, the scrim appears opaque enough to function as a projection backdrop. Lit from behind, the scrim appears transparent, exposing a sense of the existing Lehman Wing. The unexpected spatial depth of the scrim allows for visual connections to the wedding dress from all quadrants of the Lehman Wing, while also revealing silhouettes of the temporary scaffolding framework housed within. As an integrated system for lighting, signage and projection, the scrim serves multiple curation needs that would otherwise rely on overpowering media screens.