China: Through the Looking Glass
Ever since merchants first brought silk to the toga-touting elites of Ancient Rome, China as an exotic fantasyland of fabulous, wildly rich wardrobes has never quite faded from the Western psyche.
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the current China: Through the
Looking Glass exhibition explores the unusual love story between Western consumer culture and Eastern aesthetic tradition through three historic periods; End of the Empire, New Republic, and The Cultural Revolution.
Over 140 avant-garde, Oriental-tinged, haute couture masterpieces from European and American designers such as Ralph Lauren, John Galliano, and Valentino unabashedly sidle up to ancient, authentic Chinese robes, porcelain, tapestries, and sculptures as if cut from the same cloth.
Hong Kong film director Wong Kar-Wai’s involvement in the design of the showcase ensures that objects such as the child-sized robe belonging to China’s last emperor, Yu Pi (on loan from the Palace Museum in Beijing), are presented with theatrical aplomb befitting of their role as works of art in their own right.
No faux pas here, political or sartorial; the organisers are careful to explain that this extensive collection taking up three consecutive floors isn’t about Chinese culture itself, but about the fantastical vision of China that the West has dreamt up of its own accord – as insubstantial and hypnotic as a cloud of opium smoke. Poof!
Metropolitan Museum of Art / 1000 5th Ave / Upper East Side / +1 212 535 7710 / 10am-5.30pm Sun-Thu, till 9pm Fri-Sat / metmuseum.org