The Art of "Camp"

JoAnne Artman Gallery
May 9, 2019 8:06PM

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website advises to "think exaggerated. Think extravagant" in regards to the Camp theme of this year’s Met Gala. “Camp: Notes on Fashion” is a survey of how over-the-top fashion and artistic expression can challenge the status quo. Exploring dualities between high art and popular culture, exaggeration and artifice is what defines the camp aesthetic.


Drawing from Susan Sontag's 1964 essay "Notes on 'Camp'," her publication presents the sartorial manifestations of the camp sensibility. Translated onto the red (or, pink) carpet, Gala attendees embraced camp modes such as irony, pastiche, parody, and theatricality in their outfits.

Challenging traditional ideas of beauty and the socially acceptable, the spectacle and unadulterated flamboyance of Camp explodes previously setboundaries.

Defining the complexities of ‘Camp’ throughout her essay, Sontag explains that, “Camp taste has an affinity for certain arts rather than others. Clothes, furniture, all the elements of visual décor, for instance, make up a large part of Camp.” Painting the Camp elements of both fashion and visual arts, Pedro Bonnin’s figures confront the artistic tradition of classical portraiture through a meticulous portrayal of outrageous clothing and accessories. Clothing, hosiery and footwear are used by the artist to orient the figures as well as entice the viewer's senses with opulent materials and detailed fabrics. Dissecting the narratives of perception, Bonnin shows articles of status and fashion as personalized statements and markers of identity.

Addressing the lavishness of Camp, Susan Sontag writes, “The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance. Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers.” Made up of Swarovski crystals rather than feathers, Van Herle’s figure channels the ostentatious with her beautiful, idealized face and dramatic, voluminous braid.

Camp is, in many ways, a response to periods of instability and to the cultural climate of its participants. Resulting in extreme fashions that serve as a mode of escapism, Camp can mirror important, contemporary social issues (such as LGBTQ rights manifesting Camp through drag), in addition to capturing individual expression and socio-historical documentation.

While the world has not yet reached a consensus on the exact definition of what Camp is and isn’t in the wake of the Met Gala, the important take away of Camp culture is to not take life, or yourself, too seriously. In the words of a Camp expert, RuPaul Charles, “You have to be able to see the absurdity of life from outside of yourself.”

JoAnne Artman Gallery