It is not uncommon for a widow to go on an extravagant trip to lift her spirits after she has completed an appropriate period of mourning, so it is somehow fitting that after this Fall's upcoming exhibition, Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire, The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is planning a grand tour of China with Chinese Whispers: Tales of the East in Art, Film, and Fashion. In a statement, Andrew Bolton, Curator in The Costume Institute who is organizing the exhibition tells us,
“From the earliest period of European contact with China in the 16th century, the West has been enchanted with enigmatic objects and imagery from the East, providing inspiration for fashion designers from Paul Poiret to Yves Saint Laurent, whose fashions are infused at every turn with fantasy, romance, and nostalgia. In an intricate process of translation and mistranslation similar to the game of ‘Telephone’–which the British call ‘Chinese Whispers’–designers conjoin disparate stylistic references into a fantastic pastiche of Chinese aesthetic and cultural traditions.”
The Costume Institute will be joining forces with Met's Department of Asian Art for the exhibition which will be spread over several parts of the Museum —the first time since 2006 that it has teamed up with another curatorial department. The different sections will start in The Anna Wintour Costume Center’s Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery which will feature, as the Met tells us, "a series of 'whispers' or conversations through time and space, focusing on Imperial China; Nationalist China, especially Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s; and Communist China, with an emphasis on changing images of Chairman Mao'. Scenes from films by noted Chinese directors like will provide extra illustration, and Chinese "women of style" such as Madame Wellington Koo, Madame Chiang Kai-shek (Soong May-Ling), and Empress Dowager Cixi will be spotlighted.
Upstairs, in the Chinese Galleries, visitors will find fashion from the 18th century to the present displayed with Chinese decorative arts, and then, in the Astor Court, the exhibition will turn to Chinese opera. The performer Mei Lanfang will be highlighted, and ensembles from John Galliano's lavish Spring 2003 Haute Couture collection for Christian Dior which he inspired will be displayed along with Mr. Mei's original costumes.
The show looks to be one of the Costume Institute's most ambitious undertakings to date, and the museum is turning to acclaimed Chinese film director Wong Kar Wai and his longtime collaborator William Chang for artistic direction in creating the wide-ranging exhibition. Mr. Wong will also design the 2015 Costume Institute Gala Benefit that traditionally kicks off the Spring exhibitions. Hong Kong born fashion and business mogul Silas Chou will be the ball's Honorary Chair with co-chairs Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, Chinese film star Gong Li, Yahoo! president and CEO Marissa Mayer, Wendi (formerly Mrs. Rupert) Murdoch, and Met Ball stalwart Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue and artistic director of Condé Nast. The exhibition opens to the public on May 7, 2015, so mark your calendar, and look for an explosion of cclebrity chinoiserie at the Met Ball on the 4th.
Chinese Whispers: Tales of the East in Art, Film, and Fashion (Metropolitan Museum of Art Press Release)