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The Sun King, gender benders and feathers

By Zhao Xu in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2019-06-15 10:18
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Dresses appearing on the upper level of the display case have a soaring, theatrical feel to themselves.[Photo by Gao Tianpei/China Daily]

Playfulness that winked at the past - that is the emotional thread of the exhibition. In fact, like the two chains that coil around each other to form a double helix carrying genetic information, camp has in its DNA the twin forces of fashion and historicism - fashion that has ambition in its heart, and historicism that guaranteed the "necessary detachment" to fully relish a fantasy.

It is very true of Versailles, the principal royal residence for the French monarchs between 1682 and 1789, an era that Sontag believes marked the height of camp.

"Camp art is often decorative art, emphasizing texture, sensuous surface, and style at the expense of content," she wrote in the article. Versailles, ambitiously envisioned and passionately realized, seemed to have complied with every standard set up by the critic who also remarked that "what is extravagant in an inconsistent or unpassionate way is not camp."

The gilded palace was built by Louis XIV (1638-1715), the Sun King who, as a great lover of excessiveness and exaggeration, has been given prime place in the first section of the exhibition, dealing mainly with the amorphous history of camp. (It is worth noting that Sontag cited both Pope and Chinoiseries - the latter style had also found its way in Versailles - as examples of camp. In light of that opinion, the Met's 2015 fashion exhibition China Through the Looking Glass and the 2018 Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination are both inextricably linked to the current one, by providing it with more astounding examples.)

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