Mention Camp aesthetics in any discussion about art and inevitably, the conversation bifurcates faster than one can say "Vite! Vite!" at a Parisian fashion show. Earlier this month, Invisible Exports opened Notes On Notes on "Camp", an exhibition examining a fraction of Camp's contemporary aesthetic through the Sontag essay that popularized it.
When it was published in 1964, Camp was just gaining pop momentum in the U.S. Sontag's definition of Camp was strict and formal—with all the training, pacing and glory of an academic marathon. But Sontag quantified the most enduring qualities of Camp: "...unmistakably modern, a variant of sophistication but hardly identical with it."
Left: Susan Sontag. Right: Kristina Salinovic in Marc Jacob's SS/2011 54 piece collection for Louis Vuitton.
That might give pause, for a great deal of consumer goods today are marketed through Camp aesthetic—but what is termed "sophistication" hardly meets Camp. That wasn't the case with Marc Jacob's Spring/Summer '11 collection for Louis Vuitton during Paris Fashion Week. What immediately stood out in the first model down the runway was the white streak in her hair, à la Sontag. On each seat, the program notes included a quote from the Sontag essay, Note 49: “The relation between boredom and camp taste cannot be overestimated. Camp taste is by its nature possible only in affluent societies, in societies or circles capable of experiencing the psychopathology of affluence.”
"I love art writing because it offends regular people and keeps them away." — John Waters (1)
Cary Leibowitz. I Told You I Was Wearing This, 2008. Diptych, latex on wood panels 24 x 24 inches each.
Duality being intrinsic to Camp sensibility, Marc Jacobs' sartorial interpretation of Camp—sequin sashes! chinoiserie! taxidermic tigers! Donna Summer!—paired two definitions of frivolity and opulence (Camp, high-brow wealth). By commenting on the inflexibility of 'taste', Marc Jacobs (who can basically do whatever he wants) magnified classist contradictions. Very, very shiny classist contradictions. Fashion and design being barometers of consumer sophistication, it is unthinkable that another prominent gay designer (let's say, Tom Ford) would mount a show as Jacobs did. Like Camp, sophistication has its own irony and facade but Camp is consistently impervious to the sophisticate's aspirational pretension.
Rule Number 1: "Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism. It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic