In mid-December of 2017, we received a call from an associate at one of the most lauded architecture firms in the nation. Little did we know that five months and 48 tons of steel and concrete later, our work would be at the center of the most talked about exhibition in the country.
Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination is the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute’s spring 2018 exhibition and happens to be its largest to-date, taking place across 27 galleries in two locations, The Met Fifth Avenue and The Met Cloisters.
Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro with The Met’s Design Department, the exhibition examines fashion’s ongoing engagement with the devotional practices and traditions of Catholicism by presenting objects from The Met’s collection alongside papal robes and accessories from the Sistine Chapel sacristy, many of which have never been seen outside the Vatican. Contemporary couture items are presented throughout The Met’s Fifth Avenue galleries and The Met Cloisters.
A project of this scale and ambition occurring within such a compressed time frame requires intense cooperation, communication, and organization. Thousands of details and modifications were exchanged, registered, and conveyed in a timely fashion in order to execute and install the myriad components in the right configurations. But just as importantly, New Project was able to work directly with DS+R to translate the firm’s architectural concepts and language into three-dimensional form, ensuring that the vision was executed as conceived while adhering to museum safety standards.
Because of the tight fabrication window, we communicated edits and comments with the team in a 3-D software environment, rather than passing 2-D construction set drawings back and forth. And we collaborated with the designers and engineers to ensure the delicate balance between stability of the displays and management of stress loads was maintained. With that much steel and concrete, we had to be extra cautious that floor loads were dispersed and that all displays passed the engineers’ load tests.
We ultimately fabricated and installed more than 150 individual platforms, pedestals, cases, and custom mannequin mounts based on DS+R’s exhibition vocabulary of straight lines, subtle cruciform shapes, and a muted, industrial palette. We constructed two enormous custom structures: a 40-foot cantilevered wall of acrylic and steel and a 28-foot long glass and steel table to display papal vestments. Upon installation, we worked in concert with the museum’s preparators, conservators, and registrars who precisely placed each priceless artifact and couture piece.
While building and installing large exhibitions is standard operating procedure for New Project, the inclusion of centuries old artifacts and liturgical vestments from the Vatican combined with a celebrity-studded opening covered in every major new outlet the world over made this exhibition unlike any other.
Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination is on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art Fifth Avenue and The Cloisters from May 10 through October 8, 2018.
All in process and install photos by New Project, museum installation photos by Brett Beyer.
Papal vestments displayed in the cantilevered wall we built with custom steel table containing papal copes in the foreground, cassock of John Paul II in the background on view in the Lizzie and John Tisch Gallery in the Anna Wintour Costume Center.