Antwerp’s Mode Museum is highly regarded but translates poorly to 2D

A long-awaited dream experienced in isolation lacks the buzz of excitement

Mode Gallery's exhibit Der Klub der wilden Maler by Marie-Sophie Beinke. PHOTO: Courtesy of Boy Kortekaas.

By: Rebeka Roga, SFU Student

Growing up, I always dreamt of being a fashion designer or an artist, so for years I’d been wanting to visit the Mode Museum (MoMu), the fashion museum in Antwerp, Belgium. Out of many fashion museums, MoMu has been particularly alluring because Antwerp is a highly acknowledged site for fashion, and the exhibits at MoMu are known for displaying pieces of fashion history acquired from all over the world. Like many art galleries and museums across the world, due to COVID-19, MoMu recently switched to only hosting online tours of their exhibits. I finally had the chance to tour the gallery. 

Wearing my favorite sweatpants, I made my way to MoMu. Instead of by airplane and cab, I arrived at their online exhibit via Google search. As I was about to click the button to begin the virtual tour, I realized in no other circumstance would I be okay with myself wearing spaghetti-stained sweatpants to MoMu. I gazed past my embarrassing choice in pants and noticed my footwear was not up to snuff either. Seeing my lime green fuzzy socks, I imagined there would probably be some sort of “no shoes, no service” rule at MoMu’s front door — but no akin rule exists upon entering my bedroom, and I kept my outfit on.

On MoMu’s website, I saw 16 different online exhibits by various fashion designers, or about moments in fashion history, iconized in small dimensions on my screen. They did not look inviting. With no shoes on my feet, or arrows on the ground to follow, I didn’t even know where to begin the tour. Suddenly I felt less excited to view it. Nevertheless, I began scrolling through the different exhibits

All of the collections still looked beautiful and it was apparent how impressive the designs were. The eighth section, Der Klub der wilden Maler stood out the most. It contained a fashion line with saturated colors and pieces detailed with sequins or fuzz. It occurred to me that bright colors and obvious textures are not always the elements I gravitate towards the most, but they were what was most visible through a two-dimensional screen. This realization became discouraging, as it confirmed the disparity between the online and in-person experience of viewing an art gallery. 

By not viewing the collections in person, MoMu was not as impactful as hoped for. I would have liked to hear the whispers of the other fashion lovers as they admired different pieces, and to see their outfits too. I had always thought visiting MoMu would be the heart of my day, as it was one of the most inviting aspects of visiting Antwerp. I would have put on my favourite collared shirt, most loved pleated pants, and a funky pair of derby shoes; an ensemble that is not as telling of my lack of prowess or sophistication, as my loungewear. 

When previously fantasizing about my first encounter with MoMu, I imagined how the excitement of being in the space would create memories that would be stored in a unique section in my brain. Unfortunately, the tour felt mildly entertaining but far less fulfilling than I had anticipated. The exhibits were pleasing to look at and the collection size was impressive. It’s obvious that the features of the clothing are intricate, but those details were hard to understand in a two dimensional format. 

I had been enchanted by the idea of MoMu for over a decade, so finding myself disappointed by an online gallery tour rather than an in person tour should have been expected. I’m still thankful that I was able to visit the Mode Museum from afar. It’s great that MoMu and so many museums have made their collections accessible to a greater number of people. However, it does not fully replace the experience of an in-person gallery tour. I hope to revisit MoMu in person, as the experience I had was literally, too far from the real thing.