The Met Gala is one of the most exclusive parties of the year. Unlike award shows, the event itself isn’t televised, so coverage is confined to the red carpet—which is fine, because it also happens to be the most exciting red carpet of the year. Rarely do we hear about what happens after Beyoncé or Rihanna arrive and the doors close. That is, until last year, when a gaggle of celebrities decided to take a break from the stress (boredom?) of the night with some cigarettes, thus giving birth to one of the most talked about Met Gala moments to happen within the confines of the museum.
It also birthed some controversy, because museum donors didn’t take too kindly to seeing celebrities like Bella Hadid, Dakota Johnson, Frances Bean Cobain, and Marc Jacobs choosing, as New York City’s health commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett put it, “smoking as their fashion accessory." Dr. Bassett reportedly wrote a letter to executives at the Met last year, condemning the celebrities who chose to violate New York City’s smoking laws. “All visitors to public places deserve protection from secondhand smoke, including people who are visiting places like The Met,” she wrote.
True! And the backlash is definitely warranted! But the act itself—and the bathroom selfies that emerged—are bound to go down in not only Met Gala lore, but also pop culture history—which is why Matt Harkins and Viviana Rosales Olen decided to make an art exhibit dedicated to it. “Anytime people at that level of fame do something that doesn’t seem like it was okayed by a team of publicists trying to craft an image, we are immensely grateful,” they tell us. The pair tasked artists to come up with their own concepts depicting the most well-known images from the night. The artwork is set up in a makeshift bathroom which, they say, is a way for “people (with a sense of humor) to get as close as possible to the experience of attending a VIP party within a VIP party.”
When Harkins and Olen first heard about the controversy, their first thoughts weren’t “let’s turn this into art,” but rather, they reflected upon the impressive influence of the Olsen twins, who were reportedly caught smoking in the bathroom at the Met Gala in 2005. “Now everyone does it! They are so powerful,” Harkins and Olen say. When I ask whether the uproar that resulted from the 2017 Ball was warranted, they tell me: "Totally, don’t smoke inside. However, we do love when celebrities act how we feel celebrities should act, which is exactly like Elizabeth Taylor. If Elizabeth Taylor had wanted a cigarette, she would have just had one wherever she was, and honestly, she would have deserved to. So yes and no, don’t smoke inside unless you’re Elizabeth Taylor, and, if you aren’t Elizabeth Taylor, the least you can do is have Rita Ora post about it."
More than stirring up shit, the night gives us a glimpse into what celebrities do when they think nobody’s looking. You have Armie Hammer vaping in the background of one pic. Frank Ocean cheesing very, very hard. Paris Jackson lounging on the ground. Slick Woods sitting on a sink looking as badass as we would expect Slick Woods to look in real life. To see cool kids acting like cool kids is mesmerizing. “Never has there been a room filled with chicer people, all of whom were acting like teenagers at prom,” Harkins and Olen say. “It’s legendary.”
The other aspect that’s worth mentioning is that Anna Wintour banned phones (or, more specifically, selfies) from the Gala in 2015 to, we suspect, protect the privacy of the celebrities attending. This year’s event will reportedly include a new reinforcement on that rule and will also have people from the New York City Department of Health there to make sure it’s a smoke-free zone. But, if we’ve learned anything from that fateful night in 2017: celebrities will celebrity. And more rules just means more opportunities to break them.
Check out some pictures from the exhibit, below.