Monday, May 4, 2015


In a way, "China: Through the Looking Glass," on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from May 7 through August 16, 2015, is not about China per se, but a fantasy tour of high fashion juxtaposed with Chinese costumes, paintings, porcelains and other art. Films like "The World of Suzy Wong," reveal enchanting reflections through the looking glass of Chinese imagery and fashion.
   In this collaboration between the Costume Institute and the Department of Asian Art, the exhibition explores the impact of Chinese aesthetics on Western fashion and how China has fueled the fashionable imagination for centuries.
   The expansive exhibition starts with a mirrored dark tunnel  that at times I found too dark to navigate while video clips of Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Lost Emperor" leads to the dragon robe worn by Puyl, The Last Emperor, when he was four years old.  The effect is in dramatic contrast with the centuries-old Chinese costumes and all-gold mannequins decked out with designer creations by Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, Paul Poiret, Alexander McQueen for Givenchy and Vivienne Tam to name a few. From the earliest period of European contact with China in the 16th century, the West has been enchanted with the enigmatic objects and imagery from the East, providing inspiration for fashion designers , whose fashions are infused at every turn with romance, and through the looking glass make-believe.
  The Mad Hatter, London-based milliner Stephen Jones, created over 120 or elaborate headpieces that add whimsical charm to the mannequins' heads.
   The Department of Asian Art gets its most striking transformation. Production designer, Nathan Crowley, has created a moon like projection for the bamboo forest that rises in The Astor Court.  It features a thematic vignette dedicated to Chinese opera, focusing on John Galliano's spring 2003 Christian Dior Haute Couture collection.
    The exhibit features more than 140 examples of Haute Couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear alongside masterpieces of Chinese Art. Film representations of China are incorporated throughout to reveal how our visions of China have been shaped by narratives that draw upon popular culture. It allows us to recognize the importance of cinema as a medium through which we understand the richness of Chinese history.
    Andrew Bolton, Curator, The Costume Institute , organized the exhibition and the esteemed filmmaker Won Kar-Wai is the exhibition's artistic director working with his longtime collaborator William Chang, who supervised styling.
A book, China: Through the Looking Glass, by Andrew Bolton, has text by Mei Mei Rado, Wong Kar Wai, Homay King, Harold Koda and an interview with John Galliano, and is illustrated with new photographs. The Yale University Press book, a gold-stamped edition is $45.  An opening concert with pianist Lang Lang takes place in the Great Hall on May 14. For further information check the Museum's website
   Ta Ta Darlings!!! It's a fascinating exhibition that takes visitors through the looking glass into China's influence past and present.  Fan mail welcome at  Check out Polly's Blogs on

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