Thursday, April 14, 2016

A museum dresses up

Many of the costumes and clothes we see in First Monday in May, a documentary about the Metropolitan Museum of Art's 2015 exhibition, China: Through the Looking Glass, deserve to be called amazing. The movie? Not quite. Caught up in the details of mounting a major exhibition, director Andrew Rossi demonstrates that the museum's Costume Institute hasn't necessarily found acceptance among some of the museum's classically oriented personnel. Though clearly stated, the movie's conflicts are low key as it focuses on the work of the Institute's curator, Andrew Bolton. Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor and fashion czarina who runs the exhibition's opening-night gala, plays a prominent role, as well. The movie seems to think it's fascinating to watch Wintour walk down a variety of hallways. Provocative questions arise: Can such a show avoid purveying stereotypes about China, for example? Director Wong Kar-wai (In the Mood for Love) becomes the show's artistic director, and Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) helps Wintour stage a celebrity-studded evening that takes in more than $12 million. But not all the details of preparing the exhibit and the gala are as intriguing as the filmmakers must have thought, and it becomes increasingly difficult not to see First Monday in May as the chronicle of a gala whose proud opulence might have made Marie Antoinette blush. Needless to say, you won't spot Bernie Sanders in the crowd.

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