Monday, 1 July 2013

Day Two in NYC: WTC Memorial to Punk Couture

The South Reflecting Pool
Today we went downtown to check out the World Trade Center Memorial site. If you plan to go there, it's a good idea to order the free tickets online to avoid the big lineup when you get there. We were able to breeze past those who had yet to get tickets.

However, security in the area seemed excessively tight. First there was someone to check we had tickets in hand. Then we had to get the actual tickets scanned and go through a security check. Another person checked our tickets again and marked them with a marker, and when we finally arrived at the site, we were checked one more time we had our tickets in hand.

Some of the names of the victims surround the pool
It was really hot and sunny when we arrived and while there are lots of trees on the site, they are very young ones not offering much shade. The museum is not finished yet, so the only things to see here are the two reflection pools, called North and South.

They are giant dark squares lined with the names of the victims in no particular order and then there are large waterfalls on each side the water falls into a flat serene area and then that water falls gently into a smaller square that seems like an abyss. 

It was a strange atmosphere – while people are there to see for themselves what happened on September 11, 2001, they have no attachment to the place other than adding this as another place to visit on their list in New York. 

The Flag of Honor made of the names of the victims
As a result, while we should be respectful of this place for the dead, it has essentially become a tourist site, so it's uncomfortable to be here. One interesting bright spot is the survivor tree, a pear tree that survived the attacks. While it was severely burned, the tree was nursed back to life and replanted back in its spot.

Also strangely crass is the gift shop… it's understandable money is needed to run the museum and pay for all the security staff, but it's uncomfortable buying books about 9/11, particularly on the investigation, or buying a poster featuring all the names of the dead that make an American flag even though a fraction of the victims weren't even American.

After that I headed uptown to The Metropolitan Museum of Art where my friend Amy and I checked out "Punk: From Chaos to Couture". I read an article in The New Yorker about the curator Andrew Bolton who grew up in 1980s England and was keen to put this exhibit together as a labour of love.

The Survivor Peach Tree
The exhibit was a follow-up to his outstanding success with the Alexander McQueen "Savage Beast" show that drew long line-ups everyday and the museum had to extend its hours to let everyone see it.
However a brilliant designer who has an eye for the fantastical and at the same time quality tailoring is one thing, while the punk show was mostly about ripped clothes with provocative messages and graphics that have influenced haute couture were quite another.

Punk was about being subversive, challenging the establishment and creating something new. Do-it-yourself was important to the punk movement to show its fierce, independent spirit.

It began with Malcolm McClaren and Vivienne Westwood and their People are Heroes shop. She produced all kinds of T-shirts that called for attention, such as tops with a picture of breasts in the right place, profanity and outrageous graphics, such as "Black Footballer" that featured a naked mail black man stands holding a football, or even Mickey shagging Minnie… how is this art?

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Fashion took the punk idea and designers created collections around them, from Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel and Gianni Versace, to Commes des Garcons, Stephen Sprouse, and Rodarte – though we note the designers of trendy Rodarte weren't embryos when the punk movement began.

Some outfits were glammed up like the black safety pin Versace dress Elizabeth Hurley wore, to Dolce & Gabbana's fabrics splattered with fresh paint and then created into ballroom gowns. Others had lots of spikey studs in their clothing, which interestingly are definitely in fashion today, as well as fishnet stockings.

Others were avant garde with broken porcelain connected together by wire and made into a waist coat, while others took a cheeky shot at environmentalism by making tops out of garbage bags, as well as skirts. Some had strips of garbage bags sewn together and made into an haute couture dress.

We particularly liked Commes des Garcons that had a more refined sense of style with unfinished clothing, from jackets and pants to skirts that are layered onto the model in what looks like a haphazard way, but we're sure there is probably some method to the madness.

So while we understand the theme and what Bolton the curator had hoped to achieve, it was pretty tenuous and trying to fill several rooms with clothes. The exhibition did show how punk has influenced us throughout the years until the present, but what does that mean in the end?

Are we still trying to find our independent spirit, or is it a desperate way for the establishment to take advantage of something they think will sell?

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