The exhibit that all the stars were ostensibly dressing up for at last night's Met Gala is the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute show, China: Through the Looking Glass. It opens on Thursday (there are member previews today and tomorrow), and visitors will be sure to see stunning examples of craftsmanship from Chinese dynasties hundreds of years ago, as well as more modern day couture gowns that riff on Chinoiserie.
The museum has turned its Chinese galleries on the second floor over to showcase the designs along with the Anna Wintour Costume Institute's Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery. A press release explains there are "more than 140 examples of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear alongside masterpieces of Chinese art. Filmic representations of China are incorporated throughout to reveal how our visions of China are shaped by narratives that draw upon popular culture, and to recognize the importance of cinema as a medium through which we understand the richness of Chinese history."
Director Wong Kar Wai is the exhibition's "Artistic Director" and he's curated clips from Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Ang Lee, and, yes, himself. There are also areas devoted to Chinese style icons, such as Anna May Wong and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, as well as the Communist-era fashion. Other parts of the Met's huge collection, like Chinese objects, are also incorporated into the show.
However, the big question is whether the show gives visitors a better understanding of how Chinese culture has been woven into the global framework. In The Cut, Veronique Hyland writes, "It's an ambitious undertaking, but one that often meanders. The show bills itself as a celebration of Chinese design, and a wealth of beautiful things are indeed on display, but the larger cultural implications are often stripped away." Racked editors however, said, "This was a thoughtful, beautiful, and yes, respectful show."
You can decide for yourself: China: Through The Looking Glass runs through August 16, 2015.