The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new clothing exhibit is BIG – nearly three times bigger than any previous clothing exhibition. If you were bored, as I was, at last year’s Charles James exhibit, this year’s China: Through the Looking Glass will not disappoint. This show funded by “Chinese donors” doesn’t delve into the reasons designers have always been fascinated with Chinese design and culture (The Met clearly states that “the exhibit is not as much about China as it is about the fantasy of China”) rather it celebrates the beauty of Chinese art and design from antiquity and looks at its influence on modern fashion.
The show was curated in conjunction with the Department of Asian Art. Filmmaker Wong Kar-wai was enlisted as the artistic director and he uses lighting, music and film to dramatically create a mood. The clothing is presented not in a gallery of its own but in the Asian galleries. The pieces are organized by themes: for example, blue/white porcelain, opium, the qipao (the traditional Chinese dress) and calligraphy. What I found most astonishing was the juxtaposition of 18th century clothing to that from 20th century. Western designers clearly have a fascination with the East and dresses by Alexander McQueen, John Galliano for Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Yves Saint-Laurent, to name just a few, will leave you breathless.
It’s no secret that the Chinese are interested in art – as seen in recent sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s – so it’s no surprise that The Met may be kowtowing to the Chinese hoping for continued support. But whatever the reason, this season’s China: Through the Looking Glass is a visual extravaganza. My advice is to plan on going sooner than later because when word gets out this has the potential of being a blockbuster show. LAR
China: Through the Looking Glass, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue
Tickets price: $25 (recommended amount – only pay what you wish)
Runs thru: August 16, 2015