Chinese Whispers: Tales of the East in Art, Film, and Fashion
Exhibition Locations: Chinese Galleries and Anna Wintour Costume Center
The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced today that The Costume Institute’s spring 2015 exhibition, made possible by Yahoo, with additional support is provided by Condé Nast, will be Chinese Whispers: Tales of the East in Art, Film, and Fashion, on view from May 7 through August 16, 2015 (preceded on May 4 by The Costume Institute Benefit). Presented in the Museum’s Chinese Galleries and Anna Wintour Costume Center, the exhibition will explore how China has fueled the creative imagination for centuries, resulting in layers of cultural translations, re-translations, and mistranslations. In this collaboration between The Costume Institute and the Department of Asian Art, high fashion will be juxtaposed with Chinese costumes, paintings, porcelains, and other art, as well as Chinese films to reveal ongoing dialogues between East and West, past and present.
This is The Costume Institute’s first collaboration with another curatorial department since AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion in 2006, a partnership with the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts. Chinese Whispers will feature more than 100 examples of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear alongside Chinese art. Filmic representations of China will be incorporated throughout to reveal how our visions of China are framed by narratives that draw upon popular culture, and also to recognize the importance of cinema as a medium through which we understand the richness of Chinese history.
The exhibition, a collaboration between The Costume Institute and the Department of Asian Art, coincides with the Museum’s year-long centennial celebration of the Asian Art Department, which was created as a separate curatorial department in 1915. Chinese Whispers is organized by Andrew Bolton, Curator, with the support of Harold Koda, Curator in Charge, both of The Costume Institute. Additional support is provided by Maxwell Hearn, Douglas Dillon Chairman; Denise Patry Leidy, Curator; and Zhixin Jason Sun, Curator, all of the Department of Asian Art.
The Anna Wintour Costume Center’s Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Gallery will present 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. These ‘whispers,’ and others in the exhibition, will be illustrated with scenes from films by such groundbreaking Chinese directors as Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Ang Lee, and Wong Kar Wai. Distinct vignettes will be devoted to “women of style,” including Madame Wellington Koo, Madame Chiang Kai-shek (Soong May-Ling), and Empress Dowager Cixi.
Directly above the Anna Wintour Costume Center, the Chinese Galleries on the second floor will showcase fashion from the 1700s to the present, juxtaposed with decorative arts from Imperial China, including jade, lacquer, cloisonné, and blue-and-white porcelain, mostly drawn from the Met’s collection. The Astor Court will feature a thematic vignette dedicated to Chinese opera, focusing on the celebrated performer Mei Lanfang, who inspired John Galliano’s spring 2003 Christian Dior Haute Couture Collection, ensembles from which will be showcased alongside Mr. Mei’s original opera costumes.
Designers in the exhibition will include Giorgio Armani, Sarah Burton (Alexander McQueen), Roberto Cavalli, Peter Dundas (Emilio Pucci), Tom Ford (Yves Saint Laurent), John Galliano (Dior), Jean Paul Gaultier, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Picciolo (Valentino), Craig Green, Ground-Zero, Guo Pei, Marc Jacobs (Louis Vuitton), Mary Katrantzou, Karl Lagerfeld (Chanel), Ralph Lauren, Ma Ke, Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen (Givenchy), Kate and Laura Mulleavy (Rodarte), Anna Sui, Vivienne Tam, Isabel Toledo, Dries van Noten, Vivienne Westwood, Jason Wu, Laurence Xu, and others.
“I am excited about this partnership between these two forward-thinking departments that will undoubtedly reveal provocative new insights into the West’s fascination with Chinese aesthetics,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Met. “The artistic direction of acclaimed filmmaker Wong Kar Wai will take visitors on a cinematic journey through our galleries, where high fashion will be shown alongside masterworks of Chinese art.”
“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,” said Andrew Bolton, Curator in The Costume Institute. “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.”
Internationally renowned filmmaker Wong Kar Wai will be the exhibition’s artistic director working with his longtime collaborator William Chang, who will supervise styling. Creative production company 59 Productions (exhibition designers for David Bowie is at the V&A Museum and video for the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony) will serve as the exhibition’s production designers.
“William Chang and I are pleased to be working in collaboration with The Costume Institute and the Asian Art Department of The Metropolitan Museum of Art on this exciting cross-cultural show,” said Wong. “Historically, there have been many cases of being ‘lost in translation’–with good and revealing results. As Chinese filmmakers we hope to create a show that is an Empire of Signs–filled with meaning for both East and West to discover and decipher.”
In celebration of the exhibition opening, the Museum’s Costume Institute Benefit will take place on Monday, May 4, 2015. Silas Chou will serve as Honorary Chair. The evening’s co-chairs will be Jennifer Lawrence, Gong Li, Marissa Mayer, Wendi Murdoch, and Anna Wintour. This event is The Costume Institute’s main source of annual funding for exhibitions, publications, acquisitions, and capital improvements. Additional financial support for the 2015 exhibition and benefit is provided by a group of Chinese donors. The design for the 2015 Costume Institute Gala Benefit will be created by Wong Kar Wai and William Chang with 59 Productions, and Raul Avila, who has produced the Benefit décor since 2007. A publication by Andrew Bolton will accompany the exhibition. It will be produced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press, and will be available in early May.