Andrew Bolton giving John Galliano a preview of "China: Through the Looking Glass" at the Anna Wintour Costume Center. Photo courtesy of Vogue.
After 14 years of overseeing ambitious, crowd-pleasing shows like “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” in 2011 and the recent “China: Through the Looking Glass,” which have helped put the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the crossroads of glamour, fashion, scholarship and art, Harold Koda is retiring as curator in charge of the museum’s Costume Institute. On Tuesday the Met board chose Andrew Bolton, his fellow curator, to succeed him.
Mr. Koda’s tenure included transferring the Brooklyn Museum’s costume collection to the Met in 2009; reopening the expanded Costume Institute in 2014 after a two-year renovation; and helping to host, with the Vogue editor Anna Wintour, “the party of the year” — the annual Met Gala fund-raiser, which drew a record $12.5 million for the museum in 2015.
“It’s been an incredible time to be in this field,” Mr. Koda said in a telephone interview. “You’re in the catbird seat of fashion. You can observe and comment on contemporary fashion without any of the risks that designers, merchants and editors have to go through.”
The Honolulu-born Mr. Koda, 65 — who will step down in January — guided his department through significant changes since the days when it was institutionally marginal, relegated to the museum basement. He said he would be leaving the institute’s collection of 35,000 costumes and accessories in good hands, having worked closely with the British-born Mr. Bolton, 49, since bringing him to the department in 2002. Mr. Bolton, who worked at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for nine years before joining the Met, said he had learned from Mr. Koda the value of juxtaposing the old and the new. “There’s almost a tonic effect,” he said. “Historical fashion informs contemporary fashion, and contemporary fashion enlivens historical fashion.”
With its choice, the board of directors may be signaling more than the quiet passing of a baton. Scholarship in the field has been radically redrawn in recent years to accommodate an evolving understanding of the sociocultural and even anthropological role of costume and fashion. Mr. Bolton brought a form of Imagineering showmanship to exhibitions that looked at fashion through the prism of punk rock; paired Elsa Schiaparelli with Miuccia Prada to create a feminist dialogue expressed through design; and proposed in the 2008 show “Superheroes” that Wonder Woman may have been as influential a style avatar as any fashion editor.