Hello Art. Meet Fashion.
The first Monday every May, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art closes to host the biggest night in the fashion scene, the Met Gala. With just 600 strictly A-list ticket holders, the red carpet is abuzz with paparazzi and tabloid attention fit for the Oscars. This charity event is arguably also the biggest day in New York art's bank balance. The Galas, headed by Vogue's Anna Wintour, raise over $10 million (US) each year to fund the Met's Costume Institute, home to 35,000 pieces of costume, fashion and accessories.
So it was with some curiosity that I packed myself and two teenage daughters off to the Luna to see the behind-the-scenes doco chronocling the 2015 Gala, "The First Monday in May". Star of the show is undoubtedly curator Andrew Bolton. Affable and tireless, Bolton is charged with the pulling together the huge show "China: Through the Looking Glass" exploring the influence of all things Chinese on Western fashion.
These annual blockbusters open on the night of the Met Gala and provide both the backdrop and inspiration for the evening. It's almost unbelievable what goes into creating such a huge exhibition that ultimately must navigate not just academic scrutiny but also the financial expectations of the Institute and its sponsors.
The theatre of the exhibition seems to tread precariously between enhancing and outshining it's exhibits- a simple white cube this certainly is not. The internal juggling of the fashion spectacle with the Met's enormous collection of Chinese antiquities with which it is displayed lead to many, many discussions between the sartorially savvy Costume curators and somewhat more beige academics.
But even the boyish Bolton and notorious Ms Wintour cannot escape the politics of cultural appropriation of Chinese icons by the West, which prompts a trip to Beijing to promote the exhibition and appease its detractors. (No wonder they need to raise so much money...)
A steady parade of charismatic designers are interviewed and some truly breathtaking costumes carefully unwrapped from their tissue cocoons to the sighs of the curatorial staff. And of course, the watchful eye of Wintour ensures every detail of the exhibition and the "event" live up to her celestial standards (does this woman ever sleep?).
But is all this fashion really art? And does it belong in museum? Back in 2009 Karl Lagerfeld told the New York Times "Art is art. Fashion is fashion". But there are other designers and fashionistas who would equally argue that couture is applied art and it's creators are akin to textural sculptors. The show also incorporates that other "applied art", cinema. Art, craft and design increasingly blur their lines of separation. With the recent re-appropriation of traditional hand making techniques and the embrace of futuristic medical, industrial and electronic technologies into art practice, it would be difficult to argue against their inclusion.
Andrew Bolton was lauded by critics for curating 2011's "Savage Beauty", the Met's retrospective of the late British designer, Alexander MacQueen. His show is attributed by many for changing the way art critics viewed both the genius of Macqueen and fashion itself.
"China: Through the Looking Glass" became the most attended fashion exhibition in history. For no other reason, this is a doco worthy of a visit, just to get a glimpse backstage of this huge show.