I admit I am a museum nerd, but nothing relaxes me or lifts my spirits more than visiting an art museum. Here is a virtual tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2015 costume exhibition entitled “China Through the Looking Glass” which explores the influence of Chinese culture on modern fashion designs. The exhibit is open through September 7, 2015.
Why “through the looking glass”?
You may be wondering, as we were, why the curators chose the title “Through the Looking Glass?” Did this have anything to do with the Lewis Carroll characters? The explanation is weak at best saying that it referenced when Alice entered her looking glass, a mirror, into another world. I wonder that they just thought it was a cool title and then looked for ways to justify and make a connection. True, they did artfully display the fashions in front of mirrors so you could see the back as well as the front of each manikin…and they also put “hats” on many of the manikins in the shape of Alice characters… like a rabbit. However, after the first room, the reference to the Alice’s mirror lost its connection. Overall, we ( my mother and I) both enjoyed the exhibit.
Curating at its best
What I love about the Met’s fashion exhibits is the way they elevate the shows to high theater. Think of this show as a visit to the Epcot theme park but for sophisticated world travelers and you will get a sense of the quality of the exhibit.
Moon in the Water
By far, one of our favorite rooms had a moon like projection on the ceiling that was reflected into the pond beneath. The costume draped manikins stood on platforms through out the reflecting pond. from the museum’s website: The exhibition’s subtitle, “Through the Looking Glass,” translates into Chinese as “Moon in the Water,” a phrase that alludes to Buddhism. Like “Flower in the Mirror,” it suggests something that cannot be grasped, and has both positive and negative connotations. When used to describe a beautiful object, “moon in the water” can refer to a quality of perfection that is either so elusive and mysterious that the item becomes transcendent or so illusory and deceptive that it becomes untrustworthy. The metaphor often expresses romantic longing, as the eleventh-century poet Huang Tingjian wrote: “Like picking a blossom in a mirror/Or grabbing at the moon in water/I stare at you but cannot get near you.” It also conveys unrequited love, as in the song “Hope Betrayed” in Cao Xueqin’s mid-eighteenth-century novel Dream of the Red Chamber: “In vain were all her sighs and tears/In vain were all his anxious fears:/As moonlight mirrored in the water/Or flowers reflected in a glass.”
1) Daughter of the Dragon, film still from 1931
Throughout the exhibit, there are film clips from Chinese movies. My mother was excited by these clips as she had rented many of these movies which you can too. Seeing the clips made me yearn to watch them as they were filled with exotic and subtle eroticism. The curators definitely made their point that the figure flaunting fashions fanned the flames of these romantic film clips.
2) Ralph Lauren: Then, the curators further emphasized the relationship between the Chinese culture and Western modern fashion like the juxtaposition of this evening dress from Ralph Lauren’s fall 2011 collection.
3) Every modern piece was positioned next to its ancient counterpart like this Chinese court robe that clearly influenced the 2013 Valentino dress next to it. (4)
5) Although it is easy to imagine how Tom Ford for Yves Saint Laurant (6) took inspiration from an ancient Chinese robe, I wondered out loud how Coco Chanel (her design and inspiration not shown here) was able to copy her designs without the convenience of the internet… Had she traveled across the globe to see them in person? “No,” the elderly stranger next to me chided…”She went to the library.”
7) Detail from this 19th century Chinese manuscript served as fodder for a Christian Dior 1951 cocktail dress (8). Yes, 1951– I agree it looks like you could wear it now and look completely modern and on point.. but we have come to re-love this silhouette thanks to Mad Men.
So, that’s your crib notes version of the costume exhibit at the Met. Do you like these types of blog posts? I enjoy writing them although they don’t directly relate to my art but I am sure that the exposure will find its way into the creation of a future artwork
Here are some other stories I thought you’d might like:
Hey, I’m Miriam Schulman and I create mixed media art to tell stories. I also teach other people how to craft their stories with art. I give them the techniques they need to get the results they desire which brings more joy to their lives.
My art has been published by Somerset Studio, Art of Man and the New York Times among others and collected by an international audience. When I’m not playing with paint in my studio, you’ll find me in a museum spending time with friends or family. Explore my art at SchulmanArt.com or join the fun at TheInspirationPlace.net
What do you think of the Eastern influence on Western fashion?
I’m Miriam Schulman, your curator of inspiration.
I inspire art-lovers to reconnect with their creativity and profit from their art. Whether you paint simply for the joy of it or you’re serious about selling your work, and you’re ready to stop putting yourself on the back burner...You're in the right place. I've done it and I can inspire YOU how to do it too.