an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

“Superheroes” Catalogue Intro: Did Philippe Have to Write This?

One of the scholarly offerings at the Metropolitan Museum’s “Superheroes” bookshop

It’s too bad that Philippe de Montebello‘s successor couldn’t have been in place by now. Then PdM’s record for excellence wouldn’t have been marred by his Director’s Forward for the catalogue of the Metropolitan Museum’s Superheroes show, opening Wednesday. Extolling “the influential reach of comic-book superheroes on contemporary tastemakers” is not a worthy parting message for the dean of American art museum directors. If only he could have taken his bow after the openings of the current Courbet and Poussin exhibitions. It’s for overseeing such sweeping, scholarly shows that we want to remember him.

Instead, we now have “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy”—an enterprise whose foolish wall texts make WhitneySpeak sound lucid. Its inept attempt to impart the weight of intellectual seriousness to thin air casts the much maligned Star Wars (organized by Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and seen in 2002 at the Brooklyn Museum) in a more favorable light.

The Met’s wall text includes these memorable passages:

Just as Superman’s costume proclaims him a super man, Spider-Man’s costume proclaims him a spider man.

With his thick neck, bulging tendons, and throbbing veins he [the Hulk] suggests the turgidity of male arousal.

In the conflict between good and evil—the basis of traditional superhero narratives—comic-book heroes are enlisted to fight the good fight, which usually involves upholding American utopianism as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The two primary paradigms of superherodom are the superpowered superhero and the non-superpowered superhero.

I think the label writers may have read too many comic books. At least the show is up-to-the-minute. It includes Robert Downey Jr.‘s cladding from the new megahit, “Iron Man”:


But back to the unfortunate Philippe, who got stuck writing (or at least signing his name) to:

Superman’s blue unitard, flowing red cape, and distinctive “S” emblem, Batman’s black cape and bat cowl, …Wonder Woman’s red bustier and star-spangled shorts, not only proclaimed their amazing powers, but they also provoked new designs in avant-garde haute couture, ready-to-wear, and high-performance sportswear….The visitor will not be surprised to find the Thierry Mugler motorcycle bustier, with its polychrome handlebars and sideview mirrors, evoking Ghost Rider.

Actually, I WAS pretty surprised—both by Philippe’s professed fascination with such things and by the Mugler muddle (especially its headdress, fashioned from Coke cans):


So what about the show itself? Its outlandish designer fashions (again with the Coke cans)…


…made Lynda Carter‘s Wonder Woman costume seem subtle and tasteful:


But I did find a must-have fashion statement for everyone on my Fathers Day list, courtesy of John Galliano:


“With its…fetishistic hardware and enormous hose-pipe phallus, it
both reflects and represents the pulsing force of the virile body,” the
wall text informs us, apropos the above “ensemble.”

Of course by now you’ve suspected that these curmudgeonly comments are a bunch of sour grapes. I did, however, get to see the red carpet for last night’s gala, co-chaired by George Clooney and Julia Roberts before they did—in the afternoon:


The red carpet-ers were still hard at work as I flew over Fifth Avenue on my magic notepad:


Poor gorgeous George never got his chance to admire this legendary superheroine:

His loss….Had I been invited, I probably would have donned this Mugler stunner:

We can only wonder what Count Philippe modeled last night. Perhaps it might have been…
Costume worn by Christian Bale in “The Dark Knight,” 2008

an ArtsJournal blog