Museums and galleries have done their best to adjust to the “new normal” that’s been widely—albeit begrudgingly—accepted by the public since the Covid-19 pandemic began, by bringing viewing rooms online, setting up outdoor shows, and opening their doors at limited capacity. But there is still so much more the virtual world has to offer, especially for those museums which aim to present a detailed look at fashion.
While the Metropolitan Museum of Art tried its best to make an IRL fashion show exciting (and Covid-safe) with this year’s Met Gala “About Time: Fashion and Duration” exhibition, the Brooklyn Museum has successfully leaned all the way into the idea of a virtual showcase with “The Queen and The Crown,” their first virtual show in collaboration with Netflix, which offers an interactive, 360-degree look at the costumes from The Queen’s Gambit and season four of The Crown.
Ahead of the exhibition launch, Matthew Yokobosky—the museum’s senior curator of fashion and material culture responsible for dazzling, show-stopping exhibitions like “David Bowie Is” and “Studio 54: Night Magic“—detailed the curation process to W over the phone. He said conversations around doing a virtual exhibition started in June, when museum staff realized the coronavirus pandemic was going to keep potential visitors in lockdown for much longer than they first thought. The curator was already a huge fan of The Crown‘s series creator Peter Morgan’s “high-quality” work and costume designer Amy Roberts, and was impressed with The Queen’s Gambit designer Gabriele Binder’s design skills for the chess-playing drama series.
“We’ve packed a lot into this exhibit and it offers things that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to do in a real exhibition,” Yokobosky said. In fact, “The Queen and The Crown” presented a unique opportunity for the curator, who typically uses the museum’s darker galleries to showcase fashion exhibitions.
There never could have been such an in-person show held in the museum’s luminous Beaux-Arts Court on its third floor; sunlight exposure coming through the hall’s numerous windows would have severely damaged the garments. Thanks to technology, a room that is often reserved for parties and performances at the Brooklyn Museum can now showcase 21 garments and their accessories in detail, paired with pieces from the museum’s permanent art collection.
Before joining the Brooklyn Museum, Yokobosky worked as a film and video curator for the Whitney Museum, a unique skill set he brings to his curation process when it comes to fashion shows—and “The Queen and The Crown” is no exception. “The first thing I did was to look at all of the episodes of The Queen’s Gambit and The Crown season four, and to really look not only at the clothes, but to also be thinking about the storyline.” Yokobosky explained. As you “enter” the Beaux-Arts Court, there are not only costumes, but paintings, photographs, and sculptures by Guy Pène du Bois, Arthur Tress, and Hew Locke on display as well. The black-and-white gingham dress and black Bolero jacket worn by chess champion Beth Harmon, played by Anya-Taylor Joy in Queen’s Gambit, and a rendering of Lady Diana Spencer’s ivory silk taffeta and antique lace gown are perched atop the glass squared floor (which looks not unlike a chess board itself—an intentional move made by Yokobosky and the exhibition designers).
From the very beginning, Yokobosky insisted on the inclusion of a 3-D render of Princess Diana’s wedding gown in the show. “That is the vision everyone has of Lady Diana,” he said. “The wedding was so visual, well-photographed, and just covered internationally that it’s one of the most famous images of the 1980s,” the curator went on, divulging that he has kept a copy of the July 25, 1981 issue of TV Guide with Princess Diana and Prince Charles on the cover in a box for nearly 30 years. “It was nostalgic for me to think about that time, so I would say that the wedding dress was the piece from The Crown that was most exciting for me,” he said.
“The Queen and The Crown” is, of course, not solely an exhibition focused on Princess Diana and her “fresh” late 1970s and early 1980s looks showcased in season four of The Crown. Queen Elizabeth II’s Trooping the Colour outfit as well as Margaret Thatcher‘s signature blue skirt suit are featured prominently, as are the many swinging ’60s ensembles worn by Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit.
“In The Crown, there is such a wide cast of characters to draw from,” Yokobosky explained. “It’s interesting to think about the relationships between their outfits, their style of dressing, and how, in many ways, you see that Diana’s choices just feel like spring. It was a bit about mood.”
“The Trooping the Colour look, because it’s composed of so many different colors and fabrics and military accents, it went well to have in relationship to the Hew Locke sculpture in the collection,” he went on. “The sculpture itself was made from hundreds of different parts, so I loved thinking about Queen Elizabeth as being a composite of many different components.”
Additionally, the exhibition provides a conversation with Yokobosky, Roberts, and Binder, moderated by Academy Award winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter, in which the costume designers reveal the unique challenges of curating this virtual exhibition with Netflix and the Brooklyn Museum.
Two years ago, when Yokobosky worked on an augmented reality project for “David Bowie Is,” the technology was cutting-edge, but it couldn’t properly render some Alexander McQueen lace details in 3-D. Now, Yokobosky says, “the technology has developed so much that you can see going down the road, how exquisite you can make exhibits, virtually.” And keep an eye out for more exhibitions like this to come, because, as Yokobosky noted, “The virtual exhibition field is a little bit new, but I think if we focus in on these quality projects, it’s going to lay a good groundwork for us to move forward.”