Last night, the Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted the most exclusive event of the year: the Met Gala. Its purpose — fundraising for the Met’s fashion exhibit — was overshadowed by the ostentation and paparazzi, with the attendees vying for the celebrity superlative awards of “Costume That Likely Required a Civil and Mechanical Engineer to Create” and “Most Likely to Anger God Enough to Provoke Old Testament Locust Plagues.” Perhaps God granted us a reprieve last year during the “Heavenly Bodies” theme, when Rihanna came dressed as Pope, but this year’s theme — “Camp”– was similarly decadent.
While I’m on the topic of Ancient Egypt, Billy Porter was carried in by several men dressed in gold (shirtless), and he seemed to have been drawing inspiration from Isis, the golden-winged Egyptian goddess. Katy Perry was a functional chandelier (I’m interested in the collaboration between the stylist and electrician). Hamish Bowles invoked Louis XIV’s aristocratic excess down to the heels. (In the 1670s, Louis XIV declared that only members of his court could wear his signature red heels — Bowles wore purple.)
The Met on a regular day attracts plenty of visitors, ordinary people who arrive at the ticket desk and pay a donation of their choosing. Tickets to the Met Gala cost $35,000, but only if you’re selected as a guest by Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who has final say over every invitation and attendee. The rest of us are welcome to pay much less to gain entry into a museum that carries art from every region of the world, a maze that could take an entire day to navigate but that hides artifacts from Mesopotamia and classical Roman sculpture in its corners.
But the Met Gala is theatrical fanfare attended by the famous for the purpose of being gawked at and idolized for a night among others who also know their way around flashing cameras and red carpets. And it’s an honor to be invited — it’s arguably the most important event the Met will host of the year, attracting the most important people and the most publicity.
When the parade of photogenic celebrities get their money’s worth of press attention, they’ll leave until next year, when they’ll be invited again (hopefully — sometimes former invitees get benched). Celebrity, however, is fleeting. Gala attendees face the perennial challenge of getting attention. The event has already reached a florid, pretentious plateau with diminishing returns, and no costume, no matter how convoluted the bells and whistles are, can surprise us. The names on the invitee list will change, and so will the efforts made by those who made the cut and who want to personalize their iteration of the “next big thing” by defying physics and convention, and in Katy Perry’s case, possibly FDNY fire-safety rules.
Today, and for as long as humanity values its artistic contributions, the Met’s halls of sculptures, paintings, and artifacts will be open to the public, who come to see the permanent, timeless things that outlive us all.