by Abigail Weiss, Fashion Publishing
On September 16th, The Metropolitan Museum of Art opened its doors to Interwoven Globe. An exploration of global textile trade between 1500 and 1800, the exhibition takes on the monumental task of creating an expansive yet accessible overview of the infrastructural elements involved in creating a trade textile; including the remarkable craftsmanship, complicated trade processes, and social, political, and religious, implications of cross-cultural immersion.
And from first glance, it’s clear that this was a lofty goal.
The collection spans an impressive six rooms and occupies the largest gallery space on the second floor. Yet with every free surface blanketed by intricate quilts, coverlets, garments, and tapestries, the interior space immediately feels overwhelming. However, once inside and in proximity to focus on one piece at a time, it’s clear the exhibition succeeds in certain ways- namely, in shock and awe. I couldn’t pass through a single room without hearing “oohs” and “aahs” from fellow spectators, releasing their visual ecstasies into audible standing ovations of breath.
Collectively, however, the wide eyes of the curators may have been too large for the typical patron’s meager stomach. Because each piece requires so much attention and careful examination, after an hour, I wasn’t even half way through the exhibition. Additionally, with so much design, so many countries, and such a large time frame to cover, the chances to highlight personal stories within each piece are sadly missed.
Instead, each divine artifact loses its memorable individuality, transforming into an indistinguishable wave of information- culminating to feel more exhausting than enlightening.
Yet, unlike other exhibitions where a blanketing of information would dismiss potential museum go-ers, the Interwoven Globe seems to entice audiences with its subject matter; the true driving force lying in its relevance to the textile world, or fashion world, of today.
With fast-fashion consuming the eyes and ears of the consumer, there’s never been a more crucial moment to re-awaken a respect for design and hand-craftsmanship within the general public. And just blocks from New York’s Garment District and steps from Monet’s Water Lilies, there’s never been a better place for design, construction, and true artistry to take center stage.
Toward the end of my visit, I watched as an older Patron approached the most impressive piece of design I had ever seen: an 18th Century shawl from Mexico. Gazing longingly at the artifact, she subconsciously picked up the corner of the shawl that hung loosely around her own shoulders. Moving the fabric between her fingers, she visibly frowned while comparing the breath-taking stitching and vibrant, red, ikat pattern of the artifact to her own modern replica.
It’s impossible to predict if this woman will actually begin to shift her buying habits to favor craftsmanship over fast-fashion – but she has, if not only momentarily, joined the conversation. And if enough museum patrons stop to consider the impact of craftsmanship on yesterday, maybe they’ll begin to consider the impact of its absence on tomorrow. This alone makes the Interwoven Globe exhibition a must see.