These galleries are homage to The Metropolitan Museum’s China: Through the Looking Glass exhibition mounted by the Costume Institute and Department of Asian Art from May 7-September 7, 2015. Over 800,000 people visited the exhibit making it the fifth largest exhibit in The Metropolitan Museum history. Over 150 costumes and accessories from 40 designers, along with historical artifacts filled the exhibit.
The exhibit explored the influence of Chinese culture on Western fashion. To show the connections, modern haute couture, 1920s Shanghai dresses, 15th century Manchu robes, film clips, ancient artifacts and other symbols of Chinese culture were juxtaposed next to each other. Not only was it interesting but the presentation was breathtaking.
The splendor of costumes was amplified by dramatic theatrical presentations with flashing and changing lights, mirrors, reflective surfaces, wall coverings, screens and special showcases. Each room glowed in different hues. Internationally acclaimed filmmaker Wong Kar Wai was the exhibition artistic director, and Academy Award nominated set designer Nathan Crowley (The Dark Knight) was the production designer. The exhibition was curated by Andrew Bolton, with the support of Harold Koda both of the Costume Institute and was a collaboration of the Costume Institute and the Department of Asian Art.
The splendid exhibition, which for many was the finest ever mounted, was chronicled in a Museum catalog that contained essays of China cultural influences and studio photos of clothing designs and other art. However, the studio photos of the clothing failed to include the magnificent Philip Jones headpieces, the bespoke Schläppi mannequins produced for the event, and the studio images paled in comparison to the imaginative display and lighting of the exhibited designs. The Museum did not offer a brochure of the exhibit as presented. To capture memories of the extraordinary exhibit, one had to take photos.
As a professional photographer, friends asked that I take pictures so they would remember the designs and beauty of the presentation. I became so entranced by the exhibit that I returned day after day to take more photos – each day seeing something new. It is not possible to capture the impressive scale and splendor of the exhibit in mere photos. Perhaps that is why the Museum did not try. A friend said, “You cannot capture that ambiance – the sensory overload from the design, lights, mirrors, reflections, and film music in the background.” I agree you cannot. However, I tried to capture a sense of what it was like to walk around. Each photo gallery is arranged to show a possible route through that exhibit gallery and what you would see. I did this for my friends, who one year later still ask for these photos, and to share my experience of this wonderful exhibit with others.