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A Late Evening Stroll through: "China: Through the Looking Glass" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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A Late Evening Stroll through: "China: Through the Looking Glass" at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

- In the Galleries and Museums

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A Late Evening Stroll through:
China: Through the Looking Glass
(China: Through the Looking Glass Exhibit Web Page)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue (at 82nd Street)
New York, NY 10028
Phone: 212-535-7710

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 6, 2015

Assisted by Met Museum display notes within the galleries and Met website notes.

I have always imagined what it would be like to wander the Met Museum in the almost midnight hours. Last night was my opportunity to do just that. On the last weekend of “China: Through the Looking Glass”, a three-floor extravaganza, The Met was open until midnight. In fact, the Balcony Bar was open late, as well, and I headed there first for a chardonnay and tuna ceviche. The ETHEL string trio performed alone and with guests, so that visitors, traversing this expansive exhibit, or entering or departing the museum, would experience traditional and contemporary chamber music, a lovely serenade. However, once I had made my way through the lines that had formed at each of the exhibit’s locations, the din of the crowd and ambient, recorded video clips provided an immersive tonal feature. It was an exciting experience, thanks to Andrew Bolton, the Curator of the Costume Institute and Designer of this show.

The central, generalized theme that runs through this costume show (already the most visited fashion show at The Met) is the influence, over the past century, of the fantasy image of Chinese culture on American and Western European fashion designers. In one location, we see an ancient Chinese robe or tapestry, with similar motifs or shapes, re-imagined into a later French, Italian, or American coat, robe, scarf, necklace, or hat. A few examples come to mind: a 19th century, Chinese festival robe that strikes a balance with a 20th century, designer evening coat; a 19th century “rubbing” from a Chinese carving, juxtaposed with a 20th century Christian Dior cocktail dress; a Ming dynasty porcelain, painted with cobalt blue, near a 2005 Roberto Cavalli evening dress; and an ancient tapestry, close to a similar motif on a 19th century, Imperial court robe. Also, 1930’s film clips showed gorgeous seductive, silk dresses that evoked later designs, equally flattering and sensual. Many historic film clips, even American films with Chinese settings and dance, could be found on this serendipitous itinerary.

When I stumbled on a Buddha room, with a golden dress, I was thrilled, in spite of the mob. The discovery of a large space with Buddhist sculptures, overlooking mannequins dressed in contemporary martial arts costumes, within tall plexiglas rods, was truly amazing, especially at the imminent, midnight deadline. I truly felt like Cinderella at the ball, trying to gaze upon each costume, before they’re dismantled after the holiday weekend. I promised myself to catch the next costume exhibit early, when the crowds should be thinner and the experience more immediate. Kudos to Andrew Bolton for this exceptional, aesthetic concept.

ETHEL String Trio at the Balcony Bar
Courtesy of Roberta Zlokower

Festival Robe (detail), 19th century
Qing dynasty, Daoguang (1821-50)-Xianfeng (1851-61) period
Silk, metallic thread
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Anonymous Gift, 1944 (44.122.2)
Photography © Platon

Evening Coat ca. 1925
Silk, fur, metal
Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009;
Gift of Mrs. Robert S. Kilborne, 1958 (2009.300.259)
Photography © Platon

19th-century rubbing from a 10th-century stele describing an illness
Rubel Collection C-74
Photograph courtesy of Special Collections,
Fine Arts Library, Harvard University

Christian Dior (French, 1905-1957) for House of Dior (French, founded 1947)
"Quiproquo" cocktail dress 1951
Silk, leather
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,
Gift of Mrs. Byron C. Foy, 1953 (C.I.53.40.38a-d)
Photography © Platon

Jar with Dragon, early 15th century
Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Xuande mark and period (1426-35)
Porcelain painted with cobalt blue under transparent glaze (Jingdezhen ware)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,
Gift of Robert E. Tod, 1937 (37.191.1)
Photography © Platon

Roberto Cavalli (Italian, born 1940)
Evening dress, fall/winter 2005-6
Courtesy of Roberto Cavalli
Photography © Platon

Court Robe (detail), 19th century
Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
Silk and metallic-thread tapestry ("kesi") with painted details
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,
Gift of Ellen Peckham, 2011 (2011.433.2)
Photography © Platon

Tom Ford (American, born 1961) for Yves Saint Laurent
Paris (French, founded 1961)
Evening dress, fall/winter 2004-5
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,
Gift of Yves Saint Laurent, 2005
Photography © Platon

John Galliano (British, born Gibraltar, 1960) for House of Dior
(French, founded 1947)
Dress, spring/summer 2003 haute couture
Courtesy of Christian Dior Couture
Photography © Platon

Film still from "Daughter of the Dragon", 1931

Ralph Lauren (American, born 1939)
Evening dress, fall/winter 2011-12
Photography © Platon

Jean Paul Gaultier (French, born 1952)
Evening dress, fall/winter 2001-2 haute couture
Courtesy of Jean Paul Gaultier
Photography © Platon

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at