'Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination' Is The Met's Largest Exhibit to Date

The Costume Institute's massive Spring 2018 show covers 25 galleries and 60,000 square feet between two locations.
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The dress wedding ensemble by Christian Lacroix is exhibited during the press preview for "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination" at The Met. Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images 

The dress wedding ensemble by Christian Lacroix is exhibited during the press preview for "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination" at The Met. Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images 

In three days, the Costume Institute's much-anticipated Spring 2018 exhibition, "Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination," will open to the public. As has been the case with every other Costume Institute joint in the history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the reveal will have lines, and buzz, and reviews in the press, present company included. It will be hyped up — appropriately, ceaselessly — until the show closes on Oct. 8. 

But unlike every other Costume Institute joint in the history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Heavenly Bodies" is, well, different. For one, it's bigger; this is the largest exhibit for both the Costume Institute and for The Met in museum history. The show spans two locations — The Met Fifth Avenue, in the Byzantine and medieval art galleries, as well as in the Anna Wintour Costume Center — and continues at The Met Cloisters in upper Manhattan. In all, it's comprised of 25 galleries and 60,000 square feet, with ample support and participation from Catholicism's front office, the Vatican, 4,200-odd miles away.

"Heavenly Bodies" is, obviously, immense, and Costume Institute Head Curator Andrew Bolton acknowledged as much in his remarks delivered during the exhibit's preview on Monday morning. Enormous, definitely, but it's not overpowering. Much of that, I gather, is simply due to the way "Heavenly Bodies" is organized: It relies heavily on the storytelling traditions of Catholicism, be it of designers who for the most part were raised in the Roman Catholic faith — like Valentino's Pierpaolo Piccioli, who, during the preview, was discreetly milling about the space alongside members of the press — or of more explicit Catholic imagery, symbolism and art. 

"Catholics live in an enchanted world: a world of statues and holy water, stained glass and votive candles, saints and religious medals, rosary beads and holy pictures," said Bolton, reading from a book entitled "The Catholic Imagination" by Andrew Greeley, a Roman Catholic priest and sociologist. "But these Catholic paraphernalia are merely hints of a deeper and more pervasive religious sensibility that inclines Catholics to see the Holy lurking in creation."

Certainly, there's no denying that the physical aspects of Catholicism — from the clerical clothing to the ornately gilded treasures and accessories — are intrinsically linked to the realms of fashion, art and religion. In his own remarks on Monday, Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan (who will reportedly be attending the Met Gala later in the evening) noted that this symbiotic relationship is because Catholicism was as much built on the virtue of beauty as it was on truth and goodness. 

"In the Catholic imagination, the true, the good and the beautiful are so personal, are so real, that they have a name: Jesus Christ," said Cardinal Dolan. "In the Catholic imagination, the truth, goodness and beauty of God is reflected all over the place, even in fashion. The world is shot through with His glory and His presence."

While we await Whitney's full recap of both The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters, click through below to see a select number of pieces included in "Heavenly Bodies."

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