NYC Spring & Summer Museum Guide 2023: The Costume Institute & Beyond

Get thee to New York’s museums and get thee to them now. Life in the Big Apple begins anew in springtime and arriving with it is a bounty of new exhibitions and goings-on at the city’s many museums and cultural institutions. The first Monday in May heralds the start of the most anticipated of them all—a new installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, christened by the annual Met Gala extravaganza. But aside from this, the Met and its peers are just as busy with a myriad of other exhibits to cater to every type of museum-goer—find our guide below.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Following the Met Gala festivities, the Costume Institute’s 2023 exhibition opens to the public on May 5. A dedicated love letter to the career of the late Karl Lagerfeld—the creative director that made Chanel, Fendi, and Chloé the brands they are today—Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty collages some 150 pieces of clothing from the aforementioned houses (ranging from his first creative expressions in the 1950’s to his final 2019 Chanel collection) with the designer’s sketches and other juxtaposed multimedia footage.

A dress from Chanel’s Spring/Summer Haute Couture 2019 collection, Lagerfeld’s penultimate showing with the brand, on display at the Met’s Costume Institute.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Julia Hetta

A sketch of the same Chanel dress, also on display at the Costume Institute.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The exhibition presupposes that most modern designers (read: anyone designing clothes in a post-Lagerfeld world) strive to take on Lagerfeld’s legacy in one way or another. His artistic pursuits—meticulous sketching, namely, and an obsession with modernity—are only part of this. Lagerfeld-as-impresario—the discerning, collecting, black-and-white uniform-donning personality—some would say almost eclipsed his work. Each room presents contrasting lines of interest for Lagerfeld; artisanal versus mechanical, floral versus geometric, rococo versus classical. But things get interesting when they drop that approach in the final room and focus on the satirical—this room is full of tongue-in-cheek references to Lagerfeld’s own celebrity as well as some unexpected acts of kitsch, camp, and whimsy (think a dress embroidered with a candlestick so that the wearer’s head pops out of the wick).

If you find yourself at the Met on or after May 22, you’d be remiss to miss out on Van Gogh’s Cypresseswhich will run through August 27.

The American Museum of Natural History

Across Central Park on the Upper West Side, a whole new building at the American Museum of Natural History makes its debut. The Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation opens May 5 and, among many other things, brings all kinds of bugs to NYC. Manhattan’s newest residents live in the Gilder Center’s vast and impressive insectarium and vivarium, which between them account for all sorts of butterflies and some 500,000 leafcutter ants, among others. There’s also Invisible Worldsan immersive experience that will have even skeptics of such installations (that have swept through cities the world over since Van Gogh’s swirls starred in an episode of Emily in Paris a few years back) darting around guiding water through root systems with their feet. The true highlight, whether or not you’re a fan of architectural wizardry, is the Jeanne Gang-designed building itself. Swirling upward with no dead ends and an artfully-incorporated Collections Core, this Derinkuyu-esque beauty fills the viewer with a wonder so childlike that this writer may or may not have teared up a bit at the sheer joy of getting to walk around in it.

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