The “China: Through the Looking Glass” exhibit sets record numbers at The Met

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The Met’s recent exhibition “China: Through the Looking Glass” was a blockbuster that no one expected — the show broke several records and goes down in history as one of the most-visited ever at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Hundreds of thousands visited the museum to see big name designers’ interpretation of Chinese fashions. The fashion exhibit comes four years after Alexander McQueen’s critically-acclaimed run that set multiple records for attendance.

The Met’s curator Andrew Bolton was surprised by “The Looking Glass’s” popularity in part because the exhibit’s title didn’t really give the visitor a sense of what it was really about — the show relied mostly on “word of mouth” and reviews early on.

“The show was about a fantasy, it really wasn’t about the real China, it was the China that exists as a collective fantasy,” Bolton says. “By enhancing people’s experiences through cinema, through music, it was a way of getting that idea across that it really was China: Through the Looking Glass, where everything is topsy-turvy and back to front and upside down…to me, it was important to transport people into this fantasy.”


After it was all said and done, the exhibition became the The Met’s most popular fashion show ever, bringing in 815,992 visitors (McQueen’s “Savage Beauty” brought 661,509 visitors by comparison).

China Through the Looking Glass at the Metropolitan Museum
Not only that, “China: Through the Looking Glass” is the fifth most-visited exhibit, fashion or not, ever putting it in the same breath as Treasures of Tutankhamun (1978), Mona Lisa (1963) and Painters in Paris (2000).

It was popular for many different reasons, but mostly because “Through the Looking Glass” encompassed multiple rooms displaying visions of Chinese culture through the eyes of the world’s most iconic design houses and sought after designers: Chanel, Jean Paul-Gaultier, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Andrew McQueen, Vivienne Tam, John Galliano, Karl Lagerfeld, Tom Ford and Rodarte.

Famous Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar Wai served as Artistic Director and he created an exhibit that presented the fashions in a way that were dreamlike and otherworldly (if you were able to have a moment away from the tourists and mobile phone photographers jockeying for position).

“Through the Looking Glass” was a collaboration between The Costume Institute and the Department of Asian Art.


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