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Couture crosses

A visit to the Met’s Heavenly Bodies exhibit

Couture crosses

‘Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination’ (KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)

A New York moment:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heavenly Bodies exhibit, about fashion and the Catholic imagination, is set in two locations: at the Met’s main museum on Fifth Avenue, and at its northern outpost, the Cloisters. I visited the exhibit at the Cloisters. John D. Rockefeller built the Cloisters in northern Manhattan from parts of French abbeys and monasteries to hold his vast collection of medieval art. The place is stunning by itself, and the Met wisely uses the medieval abbey setting to enhance the exhibit—placing isolated pieces of contemporary fashion throughout the monastic museum.

For example, in one chapel room, curators placed a figure in a Balenciaga wedding dress that resembles a nun’s habit, looking up at a crucified Christ. It was beautiful. The pairing of fashion pieces with medieval art creates more of a concrete narrative between Catholicism and fashion. Elsewhere were Chanel dresses based on French confirmation dresses, and a Valentino dress embroidered with a medieval portrait of Adam and Eve.

All in all it showed the influence of Catholicism on art even today, as many of the couture items on display were from runways in 2015 and 2016. It showed the value of expressing divine beauty through art, but also to me, it implicitly asked the reverse question: When has the world’s standards of materialism and beauty influenced Catholicism? When has the beautiful gilding of religion hidden an empty or corrupt faith? (Some of this medieval art came at the expense of the poor.) Historically the church has been obsessed with wealth and beauty too—not just the fashion industry—and we are vulnerable to that now as well. It was an intellectually and visually satisfying visit.

Worth your time: 

An insightful piece on the sexual crimes woven into the fabric of politics in New York. Some of writer Ginia Bellafante’s assumptions—that we could solve these problems if we had more women in office or had looser abortion laws—don’t hold water. But her analysis is perceptive on a wider trend that I think is part of our digital age: the moral concern with things that are distant from you, rather than the problems in your backyard. She talks about people in Brooklyn being more concerned with congressional races in Oklahoma than with local races.

A court case you might not know about:

As if Baltimore hasn’t been through enough: The city’s new police chief Darryl De Sousa resigned after prosecutors charged him with failing to file taxes for three years. An investigation is ongoing as prosecutors have subpoenaed financial information going back a decade.

Culture I am consuming:

Ace in the Hole (1951), continuing the Billy Wilder project. The story of a journalist who capitalizes on a man trapped in a cave was based on real events. It’s one of Wilder’s darker films, but also one of his best. The story of unscrupulous American journalists and rabid media consumers is as relevant as ever.

Postscript: Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback. ebelz@wng.org