After months of secret planning, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute has finally revealed the name and concept of next year’s China-focused Met Gala and annual fashion exhibition.
“Chinese Whispers: Tales of the East in Art, Film, and Fashion,” will be the theme of the exhibit as well as the top New York fashion and social event of the year to celebrate its opening, which is set to take place on May 4. Co-chairs for the gala will include Jennifer Lawrence, Gong Li, Marissa Mayer, Wendi Deng, and Anna Wintour, while the exhibit will be brought to life as part of a collaboration between the Costume Institute and the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of Asian Art.
With art direction led by award-winning filmmaker Wong Kar-wai, the exhibition will examine how European and North American designers have “understood, misunderstood, and appropriated Chinese culture,” according to Vogue.
While it will feature pieces by a wide variety of fashion designers such as Alexander McQueen and Laurence Xu, the exhibition is set to serve as a cross-disciplinary examination of both Chinese aesthetics and Orientalism in Western culture with painting, decorative arts, and filmic representations of China. Films by acclaimed directors Ang Lee, Zhang Yimou, and Chen Kaige will be featured along with vignettes of stylish Chinese women in history such as Soong May-Ling (Madame Chiang Kai-shek), Empress Dowager Cixi, and Madame Wellington Koo. Attendees will also be able to view fashions from the 1700s until the present day, including garments and decorative arts from Imperial China.
The exhibit’s name comes from parlor game similar to today’s “Telephone” that was popular during the British Empire, and is meant to “explain that a lot of the motifs and cultural images are often lost in translation,” explained Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton.
“The West’s interest in China seems to be intensifying, and China’s cultural influence on the West also seems to have reached new heights,” he said of the choice of the exhibit. “The basic idea is the influence of Chinese aesthetics on designers, but I also wanted to convey how costumes and decorative arts crystallize centuries of cultural interchanges between the East and the West. They speak to an ongoing fascination of enigmatic objects and motifs. They are infused with fantasy and nostalgia and romance, and what often is created is a virtual China, a mixing of these anachronistic styles, which results in this pastiche. What is interesting is how complicit China has been in forming those fantasies.”