How is the Met Gala theme decided

How is the Met Gala theme decided?

As the Met Gala 2022 approaches, Andrew Bolton, the renowned curator of the Costume Institute, reveals for Vogue

the process of selecting the theme, flirting with controversy, and collaborating with the Vatican for this 2022

edition. met gala celebrities red carpet Andrew Bolton vatican interview meeting

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual spring fashion show has become an institution in its own right.

Last year, the red carpet and the dinner that precedes it – the Met Gala – raised $12.5 million for the

museum, while nearly half a million visitors came to the exhibition. (In 2022, 815,992 people came to see

“China: Through the Looking Glass,” making it the most popular exhibition to date). And it all starts with

a decision: the theme. Behind the concept, the curatorial work and the implementation is a man, a fashion

nerd by his own admission: Andrew Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute.

How the theme is chosen

If the theme of this 2022 edition is so much in the news, it’s for a good reason. Entitled “Heavenly Bodies:

Fashion and Catholic Imagery,” it explores the connection between fashion and Catholicism. In deciding to

juxtapose elements of spiritual dimension with the more material and commercial world of fashion, Bolton

is aware that it is a controversial choice. But he doesn’t mind. “I think any exhibition should provoke

debate,” he tells Vogue a few days before the opening. “I think it’s important to open up a debate and give

visibility to ideas that are difficult to address or perceived as problematic. That’s the role of any museum:

to open people’s horizons on a given topic through objects.”

Choosing a theme is a complex process. “I try to work on a topic that seems timely and defines a current

or impending cultural shift,” Bolton says. “We always try to have exhibitions that are dynamic, juggling

topics from the past and present, sometimes thematic and sometimes monographic, dedicated to a single designer.

We try to diversify.”

met gala celebrities red carpet Andrew Bolton vatican interview meeting

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How the theme is approved

When Bolton and his team find a theme they like, they submit it to the museum’s director and president – positions

currently held by Max Hollein and Daniel H. Weiss, both recently appointed. While these early discussions begin

six to twelve months before the spring show, the curatorial process begins as soon as the spring show opens, giving

the 32-member team a year to bring the magic of the event back to life. After the blessing of the top brass, Anna

Wintour, artistic director of Condé Nast and editor-in-chief of the American edition of Vogue, has her say.

Wintour has become Bolton’s close ally and is playing a key role in preparing for the Met Gala and the spring

show. “Without her support, it would be very difficult to do this,” he says. “Anna determines which sponsors would

be appropriate for the exhibition. Sometimes I have an idea, and it’s not a great idea or very popular, which

is not exactly attractive to sponsors,” he adds with a laugh. “Anna is amazing and supportive in so many ways,

and especially in seeking sponsors.” (This year’s funding comes from Versace, Condé Nast, and Christine and Stephen

A. Schwarzman.)

Wintour’s involvement is far from over. She has served as co-chair 19 times, and has built the Costume Institute

and its annual gala into the international event that many now refer to as the “Oscars of fashion.” The documentary

The First Monday in May may be the best example of this, but few things are beyond Wintour’s control. She has

the final say on everything: from the decor to the seating charts, and of course the famous guest list. Her influence

is such that the wing in which the Costume Institute’s collection is housed was named “Anna Wintour Costume Center”

in 2022.

There is a dress code, which tends to take up the wider framework of the show. And while Wintour invites guest

stars to play along, the rules are still pretty loose. Take last year’s Comme des Garçons show, for example: most

attendees wore traditional glamorous outfits, but the women who opted for the designer’s clothes – including Rihanna

and Tracee Ellis Ross – made waves for more than just good reason. Another example dates back to the opening of

the 2022 Charles James exhibit. All guests were required to come in “formal wear,” which caused men to reach for

outdated pieces like tails, sleeveless vests, collared shirts, and white bow ties. So if you see a bunch of celestial

dresses on Monday night, expect to see a lot of guests in classic black attire as well. A perfectly acceptable

– and agnostic – choice. Nike Air Huarache China met gala celebrities red carpet Andrew Bolton Vatican interview meeting

Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

How this year’s theme was decided

Even once a theme has been approved by all stakeholders, changes can still occur. “Heavenly Bodies” was originally

planned for 2022, but when Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo accepted a tribute to her career, Bolton couldn’t pass up

the opportunity. Planning is important, he stresses, but so is flexibility. “It’s a balancing act” – finding something

that’s interesting to the public, but that also harnesses the strengths of the Met’s curatorial work and displays a

wide variety.

This year’s exhibition “is particularly close to my heart,” says Bolton, adding that its gestation period has been

considerably longer than for others. It’s a theme he’s been thinking about since “the culture wars of the 1980s,” but

it was first presented only five years ago. At the time, he hoped to explore five belief systems represented in the

Met’s existing collection – Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism. But the wealth of content regarding

Catholicism and its influence was so great that he decided to focus solely on the Catholic canon. “I figured I would

take advantage of the abundance of content,” he says. met gala celebrities red carpet Andrew Bolton vatican interview meeting

Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Why the Vatican was involved

The controversial exhibition will be the Costume Institute’s largest ever, and will be presented not only in

the medieval halls of the museum’s legendary Central Park location, but also in the famed Anna Wintour Costume

Center and its annex “The Cloisters,” a reconstructed monastery in Upper Manhattan. Presentation is key, especially

given this year’s sensitive topic. “We do a lot of cultural mediation,” Bolton says of the Vatican’s involvement,

which was approved more than two years ago to ensure the event would be respectful yet relevant. “There’s obviously

a sensitivity around fashion and religion – around art and religion in general;, actually – but it’s just interesting in terms of the tension,” he relates. “I’m against censorship, but I’m

okay with working with the community, and collaborating to support each other. I’ve discovered that some things

I thought were trivial or benign are actually not. I learned a lot – sometimes the Vatican and I disagreed,

but we always found solutions and came to a better understanding of each other’s points of view in the process.”

Of the pieces in the exhibition, Bolton has a preference for a Viktor & Rolf dress that will be displayed next

to the two processional statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus that inspired it; . Another favorite piece is a Cristóbal Balenciaga design from 1967. “It’s one of my favorites because in

the history of fashion, it’s mythologized or sacred,” he explains, noting that its seemingly simple construction

(made with a seam) conceals its innovative and modern nature. “It is complex but seems minimalist and very

modest. The technique and craftsmanship are breathtaking.”

After all this time spent choosing a theme and building a nuanced and complex debate, what does Bolton want

to convey to his audience? “That beauty can be a bridge between the believer and the nonbeliever,” he answers.

He also wants visitors to feel the full influence that religion can have on a person’s existence, and how

that belief system can inform what they do. “The exhibit is about designers who are interested in Catholic

imagery, symbolism, and iconography, but on a deeper level, it shows how a Catholic upbringing might have

shaped a designer’s creative impulses.”