On a sticky July morning, I walked over to the Metropolitan Museum to see two special exhibitions. For his bravura brushwork and elegance of style, John Singer Sargent has always been a great favorite of mine. This Met show from London, “Portraits of Artists and Friends” was a great treat.
I spent so much time with Mr. Sargent that I almost postponed going to see “China Through the Looking Glass”, but I am so glad I didn’t! This show has been drawing huge crowds, exceeding the records set by the Alexander McQueen exhibit “Savage Beauty” in 2011. It fills all the Met’s Chinese Galleries as well as the Costume Institute.
The exhibit begins with a delicious grove of Lucite ‘bamboo’. Between the geometry of the bamboo, couture by Craig Green, a very young British designer, emerges in ghostly shapes. What a coup for him!
With the crowds, the low lighting and the glass cases, it was hard to photograph many of the inspired pairings of object/couture in the hallways that lead to various larger galleries.. It is not documented that these specific objects were the inspiration for the couture but the pairings are dynamic. A 1978 Yves St. Laurent short coat of luminous gold texture silk reflects the surface of a bronze ritual wine container. Yves St. Laurent’s Opium Collection is highlighted in a vermillion painted gallery.
Anna May Wong was the first Chinese-American movie star and influenced fashion with her ‘Dragon Lady’ roles in early movies. Several cases show her movie stills on screens above dramatic structured couture. The inspired collaboration between the curators of the Chinese Collection and the Costume Institute led to the exhibition’s premise to encourage “aesthetic interpretation and broaden cultural understanding”.
A large gallery is lined with softly lit Buddha figures, while in the center with pride of place is magnificent gold lame and beaded gown, 2007, by Guo Pei, contemporary Chinese fashion designer. How heavy must this gown be? You can see the elaborate train that fans out behind the figure.
Some of the Met’s collection of hand-painted Chinese wall papers echo the delicate floral patterns on clothing from the 18th to 20th centuries. The striking headdresses add a bold note in contrast the dainty painting.
Speaking of headdresses, this is a detail of a headdress on a band, barely visible, of a design by Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen. It is make from carved cork!! Astounding…and I’m sure fairly light to wear.
An imaginative sculpture by Li Xiaofeng, “The Weight of the Millennium” (2013) is created from hundreds of shards of blue & white Chinese porcelain. This also becomes one of the inspiration pieces for the couture in this gallery.
The posture, long sleeves and hairdos shout the 1960s with these two mannequins in floor length dresses. Imagine ginger jar beehive hairdos – how’s that for inspiration? This show has been extended until September 7th – plenty of time to go and find your inspiration— think of it like an “Art In Bloom” for couture!! Can’t get to New York, look at the amazing photos of “China Through the Looking Glass” on Google Images.