On Monday night, the Met opened from 8-10 pm for college students to enjoy the new “Visions of China” exhibit, as well as food, drinks, and music. I think everyone between the ages of 18 and 22 in NYC was at the Met on Monday night- THAT’S how packed it was. But it was beautiful to see the Met all lit up in pink and purple. It was also fun to have an excuse to get all dressed up with friends and take pics! My girlfriends and I showed up in all black (whoever said orange/beige/slate/maroon is the new black is clearly deluded).
All around the lobby, servers handed out steamed pork buns. Probably a highlight of the evening. We made our way past the DJ booth and into the incredible new Visions of China exhibit.
Visions of China explores Orientalism as a positive cultural response to the West’s interactions with the East. It attempts to diminish the binaries that have defined the western-eastern relationship (The west being appropriative and superior, the east being authentic and fetishizied). Visions of China does not try to erase the detrimental effects of Orientalism and the racist “otherness” that it created. It examines the relationship from a more objective perspective in order to see that aspect as only a part of a larger process through which there were positive creative results. What is left after these binaries are scraped down is a two-way conversation between two parts of the world, and the creative dialogue that ensues.
In all of these rooms, ancient Chinese statues and tools are placed next to clothing that has been, in some way, inspired by Chinese culture. Some are high-end designer pieces, and others are dresses from movie sets. Some were designed by Chinese designers, and others are not. The juxtaposition of old and new is at times very beautiful, when the source of a design is very clear. At other times it seems like an anachronism of time and space, especially when hoards of girls in heels pose in front of Chanel gowns, but not ancient Bodhisattvas. At times like these, the sources seem to fade into the background. I would like to come back on another day when the crowds are smaller to take some time and really look at the ancient works, picking apart the details that have been woven into silk dresses.
Here are some highlights from the exhibit:
A british designer, Craig Green, put together this look that is displayed between glass impressions of bamboo. Lit from within, the glass shines brightly white, contrasting strongly with this dark ensemble. The white bamboo forest take over much of the first room.
Behind the bamboo forest stands this Bodhisattva from the Shanxi Province. It was created between the years 550 and 600. The jewels cascading from the Bodhisattva’s neck foreshadow the incredible jewelry in the rest of the exhibition, and demonstrate a source for its inspiration. It’s massive size serves as a foil for the technologically impressive bamboo forest several feet away. It is impossible not to look back and forth between the two, mentally searching for a connection.
A gown by Guo Pei, a Chinese designer.
The petals on this dress echo the sweeping curves of the fabric adorning the surrounding statues. The rich color and ornate pattern of the fabric echo the surface of these statues as well. Even the pedestal of this particular statue bears the circular motif woven into the surface of Pei’s gown. Both the gown and the statue exhibit a tight bodice in addition to the flowing fabric that covers the rest of the body.
Here is a headpiece designed by Alexander McQueen. It is inspired by a Chinese garden. It does not even seem as much an inspiration as a direct translation of a scene that McQueen saw in person or in a book, and carefully reproduced. The fancifulness of the scene is at home as a whimsical headpiece, physically encircling the realm of the imagination.
There is an entire room dedicated to the Chinese actress Anna May Wong, whose career bounced between playing the Lotus character and the Dragon Lady. Such limited roles did not diminish her star power. She went back to Europe after exhausting Hollywood and became a muse for more avant grade artists. Some of her gowns are shown, though they were very difficult to photograph (all the more reason for you to go!). Here is a terrible picture of a gorgeous costume:
The exhibit places a photograph of Anna wearing this exact dress right above it, as if she is looking down on her legacy from up above. Photographs near the ceiling also create another dimension in this exhibit, emphasizing the circular nature of the western-eastern relationship.
This is my FAVORITE dress in the entire exhibit. It is Chanel, which makes sense when you see the classic lines, tiny pleating, and (obviously) the use of black and white. The surrounding walls are lined with ancient Chinese writing. The dress mimics these scrolls and panels with inky black characters screen-printed onto silk fabric. Of all the non-Chinese designers, I thought that Chanel paid the best homage to the source. The small pleats echo the lines of Chinese dresses (we are shown these through videos playing throughout the exhibit). The characters are not arranged in lines, but the structure of the dress recalls the linearity of the source material. Aside from all that, it is a beautiful dress, and I want it.
This is only a small preview of a MASSIVE exhibit. I couldn’t photograph everything, partially because I was really enjoying seeing everything and kept forgetting to take pictures, and also because we were packed in there like sardines. In fact, five minutes before closing, I was buying a postcard when the cashier asked me how I liked the Anna Wintour section of the exhibit. I had no idea what she was talking about. Apparently, the show isn’t JUST on the second floor. There’s a whole other part in the Anna Wintour Costume wing downstairs. Oh well, guess I’ll just have to go back! And hopefully on a Wednesday at 10 AM this time… I like being alone when I look at art!
Just a leetle claustrophobic,
xoxo, Chloe <3