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You’ll Love the Met’s “China: Through the Looking Glass”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was bustling with excitement early this month, as the first viewings of “China: Through the Looking Glass” took place the day of the annual Met Gala. The 140-piece exhibition, curated by Andrew Bolton, brings together two of the museum’s departments, the Costume Institute and the Department of Asian Art, shining a light on Chinese imagery in art, film, and fashion.

“From the earliest period of European contact with China in the 16th-century, the West has been enchanted with enigmatic objects and imagery from the East, providing inspiration for fashion designers from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent, whose fashions are infused at every turn with romance, nostalgia, and make-believe,” said Bolton. “Through the looking glass of fashion, designers conjoin disparate stylistic references into a fantastic pastiche of Chinese aesthetic and cultural traditions.”

This exhibition is a rich mix of costumes, couture, paintings, porcelains, designer dresses, and film, to reflect enchanting Chinese imagery. It is a “monumental, immersive exploration of the influence of Chinese art,” said by Thomas Campbell, The Met’s Director and CEO. “Its inspiring mix of cultures, images, and ideas takes you on a truly cinematic journey.”

The Anna Wintour Costume Center’s Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery features a series of “mirrored reflections” that focus on Imperial China, the Republic of China (especially Shanghai in the 1920-40s), and the People’s Republic of China, and are illustrated with film clips from groundbreaking Chinese directors, such as Wong Kar Wai, the exhibition’s artistic director. Playing among one of the largest collections of Chinese art in the Western world, film snippets represent how our visions of China are shaped by the narratives within pop culture.

A stand out corner on the first floor showcases designs by Vivienne Tam, as she offered her polychrome-printed nylon mesh Mao Portrait Dress and her polyester Mao Suit from her spring/summer 1995 collection—a duo creation using Andy Warhol’s printed images of Mao from 1973.

On the second floor, the Chinese Galleries showcase fashion from the 1700s to the present, and a section of The Met’s decorative art collection including jade, bronze, lacquer, and blue-and-white porcelain. In addition to gems and jewels, an array of vintage perfume bottles, and their sketches before they were manufactured (Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium perfume bottle from 1977, for instance), are on display in the back room.

Throughout the stunning exhibit, interpretations from some of the world’s most iconic designers—Balenciaga, Bulgari, Alexander McQueen, Tom Ford, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Guo Pei, Valentino, Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, Cartier, Roberto Cavalli, Martin Margiela, Van Cleef & Arpels, Givenchy, Christian Louboutin—offer postmodern constructions instead of reproducing facsimiles. In The Astor Court, Chinese opera is given a fresh new look, as a sharp focus on Rodarte, Chanel, and John Galliano’s spring 2003 Christian Dior Haute Couture Collection is seen on a variety of porcelain white mannequins.

 

“China: Through the Looking Glass” is on view through August 16, 2015.

 

 

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