Photography by Andy Ryan
Andrew Bolton wanted desperately to be punk growing up. “Punk was anarchic, it was chaotic, and it was sometimes violent, yes, but I always thought punks were so heroic and noble,” says the British-born curator behind the exhibit Punk: Chaos to Couture, which he unveiled at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this past May. “I envied those people who looked really disheveled and cool, but I could never do that. I just always looked preppy, and I think I just gave into it.”
Now settled into his own style — a narrowly tailored collegiate suit by his boyfriend, Thom Browne, usually does the trick these days — Bolton is rounding out his 11th year at the Met’s prestigious Costume Institute, where he seamlessly blends mainstream pop culture and fashion’s hautest wears. His recent shows have included Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy, the universally adored retrospective Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, and Impossible Conversations, in which he paired the work of Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada, two legendary Italian designers from two different eras.
For the punk retrospective, Bolton and his team constructed a replica of the bathroom of the iconic rock ‘n’ roll bar CBGB, as well as vast hallways and “period shops” to host iconic punk creations like Versace’s 1994 safety pin dress. The final product received mixed reviews. But Bolton, who before joining the Met served for eight years as a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s East Asian department, knew the exhibit would cause a stir.
“People feel proprietorial over punk,” he says. Besides, he adds, invigorating emotions, good or bad, is part of the job, and he’s thrilled that large-scale fashion productions, once anathema to established museums, are now becoming their bread-and-butter events. “It’s hard to divorce fashion from history,” Bolton says. “Fashion responds to changes faster than other art forms because of its immediacy. It’s democratic.”