Met museum to focus on China

Updated: 2015-02-17 11:12

By Amy He in New York(China Daily USA)

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Met museum to focus on China

Chinese film director Wong Kar-wai speaks on Monday morning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The museum will be unveiling its new China-themed exhibit in May, exploring how China influenced Western fashion designers for centuries. The exhibit will feature more than 130 examples of haute couture and ready-to-wear pieces next to Chinese masterworks. Amy He / China Daily

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York will be celebrating centuries of China's influence on the West in its new China-themed exhibit, which focuses on how Western fashion designers were inspired by the country and incorporated elements of its art into fashion pieces.

The exhibit, China: Through the Looking Glass, will be unveiled to the public on May 4 and will be presented in the Met's Chinese galleries and the Anna Wintour Costume Center. It runs through Aug 16.

"With the world's largest population and one of the oldest cultures, China is a leading force in economics and politics, so [there is] the need to engage with China, understand its culture," said Maxwell Hearn, chairman of the museum's Department of Asian Art.

"This exhibition is a collaboration between the Costume Institute and the Department of Asian Art and underscores the key role that the encyclopedic museum like the Met can play in exploring the many ways in which Chinese culture has for centuries influenced and inspired the West," he said during a media briefing.

Chinese director Wong Kar-wai, best known for his work on In the Mood for Love, served as artistic director of the exhibit.

"When we look at a mirror, we see ourselves," he said. "But when this mirror turns into a window, we will see a world around us. We hope this exhibition will serve as a window for the Met's audience to have a better view of the historical and contemporary Chinese culture and aesthetics. Instead of reinforcing the difference, I hope this show will be an event to bring us and our two cultures together."

China: Through the Looking Glass features more than 130 examples of haute couture and ready-to-wear pieces juxtaposed with pieces of Chinese art. Clips from well-known Chinese films - such as Farewell My Concubine, In the Mood for Love, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - will also be incorporated into the exhibit to illustrate how China is portrayed through popular culture.

"In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, his character Alice enters an imaginary, alternative world by climbing through a mirror," said Andrew Bolton, curator of the Costume Institute. "In this world, everything is topsy-turvy, and back-to-front. Real life roles are reversed.

"Like Alice's make believe world, the exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass presents an image of China that is a fabulous invention, a fictional universe that embraces an alternate reality with a dreamlike object," he said. "This fictional universe reveals itself through a series of carefully curated juxtapositions of western fashion and Chinese costumes and decorative arts."

Bolton said that the exhibit will be broken up into two series: one called From Emperor to Citizen, which focuses on three periods in Chinese history-the Qing dynasty, the Republic of China and New China-and the clothing worn during that time, which were the changshan, qipao and zhongshan.

"For designers, the appeal of these garments lies in their cultural and historical specificity, they serve as a kind of sartorial shorthand for China and the shifting social and political identities of its people," he said. "These three types of garments in turn tell a story of the gradual introduction of Western technique with Chinese dressmaking traditions."

The second - called Empire of Signs - will focus on signifiers that Westerners associate with China, such as jade, lacquer and porcelain.

The exhibition is sponsored by Yahoo, Cond Nast, Chinese textile and apparel tycoon Silas Chou; Wendi Deng, Rupert Murdoch's former wife; and several other Chinese donors who wished to remain anonymous.