MET’S CHINA THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
By Naomi Barling
Visitors taking a trip to the approaching Met exhibition can expect to see up close the sequined yellow column gown from Tom Ford’s years at Yves Saint Laurent inspired by images from films like Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987) and In the Mood for Love (2000). You will also find a cobalt blue dragon twisting across the surface of both an exquisite fifteenth-century Ming storage jar and a strapless blue-and-white silk-satin evening dress by Roberto Cavalli. Opening May 7, this highly anticipated exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute is called China though the looking Glass and is, as you might have guessed, focused on China.
China’s influence on Western fashion can be traced all the way back to the silk trade between Asia and the Roman Empire. From as early as the sixteenth century when Europe first came into contact with China, the West has been fascinated with unknown objects and imagery from the East. The Chinese culture has provided limitless inspiration for fashion designers from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent. Poiret would mix Chinese, Japanese, and Egyptian influences all into one garment. Designers conjoin contrasting stylistic references with Chinese aesthetic and cultural traditions; whether it be glazed roof tiles in the Forbidden City glinting in the morning light, the silken cushions of the sedan chairs that carried the last emperor of China, or even the linings of traditionally embroidered robes and hats.
The show was curated and organized by Andrew Bolton with production design by Nathan Crowley, it has been in the making for two years and is installed within the grand backdrop of the museum’s Chinese Galleries. “At the Met, we can put modern art into a 5,000-year context,” says Maxwell K. Hearn, head of the museum’s Department of Asian Art, this gives an unusual perspective to the work on show. The exhibition will feature more than one hundred examples of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear alongside Chinese art. Film representations will be incorporated throughout the show to help reveal how our visions of China are outlined by popular culture, and also to recognize the importance of cinema as a medium through which to understand the richness of Chinese history.