The Heavenly Way to the Met Cloisters

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s grand exhibition Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, organized by the Met’s Costume Institute, opens today at the museum’s Fifth Avenue location and uptown at The Met Cloisters. Inspired by Catholic traditions, the exhibition of awe-inspiring fashion design inspires a conversation between the material culture and spirituality of the church and the work of renowned fashion designers, many of whom grew up Catholic.

Entrance to exhibition in the Romanesque Hall at The Met Cloisters. Viktor & Rolf ensemble, 1999-2000.

Don’t miss the part of the exhibition housed at The Met Cloisters, because even if you’ve been to The Cloisters multiple times, you will never see it quite like this. It’s as if the museum, already a quasi-sacred space, comes alive with the presence of these heavenly-attired creatures. Credit here goes to exhibition designers Diller Scofidio + Renfo (DS+R) for staging this sensational experience, one that includes audio and effective lighting.

Wedding ensemble from the House of Balenciaga. 1967. Fuentidueña Chapel. The Met Cloisters.

May I suggest a pilgrimage uptown to see the exhibition? At any season, the walk from the southern entrance of Fort Tryon Park to The Cloisters is one of the most beautiful in the city. Beginning near the 190th Street A train subway stop at Margaret Corbin Circle, the walk continues through the Heather Garden, fully resplendent in a colorful show for springtime.

Begin the pilgrimage with a walk in Fort Tryon Park.

A stop at Linden Terrace provides heavenly views of the Hudson River and Fort Tryon Park. Walk around the dramatic overlook just to the north of the terrace and then up to the Cloisters Lawn. The lawn is one of the central sites for the park’s annual Medieval Festival in autumn, transformed into a jousting arena with fighting knights on horseback.

Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir. ARMORS 2016-2018

This summer, a temporary public art exhibit by Icelandic artist Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir titled ARMORS 2016-2018 encourages a frank discussion between our naked and our defensive selves.

Continue walking to the museum. Look for entrances on the north and east. Met museum general admission applies - $25 for adults; $17 for seniors; $12 for students; and free for Members, patrons, and children under 12.

The Met Cloisters, the museum’s uptown branch that houses part of the museum’s formidable collection of medieval art, is often mistaken by visitors for a real monastery or house of worship. The museum is essentially a pastiche of reassembled monasteries that were reassembled on a lofty perch uptown in the middle of the 1930s. The interior courtyards and exterior gardens, now is spring bloom, accentuates the serene atmosphere.

View of Langon Chapel and wedding dress from the Romanesque Hall. King Clovis and his son Clothar welcome you.

The juxtaposition of the works from The Met’s Costume Institute, visible in every room, with the museum’s permanent collection greatly elevates both the visual wealth of The Cloisters and the spiritual intents and meanings of the works.

Monastic clothing by Madame Grès. Pontaut Chapter House with reflection of the Cuxa Cloister.

Rather than engaging in some sacrilegious exercise, the exhibition instead elevates the spirit of the medieval world and the centrality of the church. At the same time, the medieval setting raises the Catholic inspired work of Valentino, Dior, Balenciaga, and others into the realm of the high heavens.

Valentino cape. Saint-Guilhem Cloister.

The lighting design greatly enhances the drama and theatricality of the experience. Indeed, Heavenly Bodies is not just something to see but something to feel. Don’t miss the spectacle of Thom Brown’s wedding ensemble (2018) surrounded by the Unicorn Tapestries, the Valentino capes in the Saint-Guilhem Cloister (as you listen to Maria Callas signing Ave Maria)and the bright Niccolò Machiavelli-inspired dress by John Galliano for Dior hiding under a staircase in the Glass Corridor.

In the Gothic Chapel, a work inspired by The Crusades.

If you can drag yourself away from this awe-inspiring exhibit, feel free to continue the walk through Fort Tryon Park on the north side of The Cloisters. A winding path descends down through the trees to street level near a playground and the intersection of Riverside Drive with Broadway. The Dyckman Street A train subway stop is nearby.

The map includes many additional points of interest throughout Washington Heights and Inwood.       



Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination
organized by the Met’s Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton
At The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters
May 10–October 8, 2018 Met website

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from May 9, 2018.

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