Monday, April 11, 2016

Movie Monday: The First Monday in May

Below is the trailer for the biggest attraction at this year's Tribeca Film Festival.  The film will debut at the festival Wednesday and then appear in select locations starting later this month.

It is a documentary about the assembly of the Metropolitan Museum's popular 2015 exhibit, "China: Through the Looking Glass" and -- more important -- the planning of the annual Met Gala that raises mucho money for the museum's Costume Institute.

There has been a lot of gushy, breathless reporting about how wonderful the film is and how it addresses the questions of whether fashion is about art or selling clothes and how interwoven the elements of fashion, celebrity, commerce and art have become in today's culture.

Here are a couple other trailers that touch on those themes.

First, art:

Now, celebrity:

Let me share some general background.

Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine took over the Met Gala around the turn of the century and amped it up from an upper-class dinner for rich New Yorkers into a boffo fundraiser by bringing in more celebrities and turning it into an aspirational event for people who want to see and be seen.  An article in the New York Times last year described the phenomenon, saying this:

          Under Ms. Wintour’s reign, the gala has raised more than $145 million for the Costume
          Institute (the party funds its operating budget in its entirety), with attendees willing to
          pay $25,000 for an individual ticket or commit to a minimum $175,000 for a table of 10.
          By contrast, the Museum of Modern Art’s recent David Rockefeller lunch, the museum’s
          biggest annual fund-raiser, brought in $3.5 million, while the New York City Ballet’s
          2014 spring and fall galas raised a combined $5.45 million.

This has been good for the Metropolitan Museum and good for Wintour, who has been in the top slot at Vogue since 1988.  Her influence now seems to have eclipsed that of the New York's 20th century fashion doyenne, Diana Vreeland, who edited Harper's Bazaar and Vogue.

The Metropolitan Museum, for its part, has embraced new trends in art, which has increased its appeal to new, mostly younger visitors.  The China exhibit discussed in this new movie drew more than 750,000 visitors.  A 2011 exhibit, "Savage Beauty," featured the fashions of bad-boy designer Alexander McQueen, who died the year before, and was even more popular based on views per day during its shorter opening period.   An exhibit of sculpture by Jeff Koons (he of the big, shiny balloon dogs) attracted more than 650,000 visits in 2008.

As always, the world of culture is changing.  New, less traditional artists -- Koons, hip hop musicians, fashion designers, celebrities who are famous if not accomplished -- are attracting people to new forms and in some cases overtaking interest in Old Masters paintings, opera and classical ballet.

This is a constant process.  Not all of the new stuff will be remembered in 2116, or even 20 years from now.  But some of it will.

A few thoughts.

--  The movie quotes prominent designers Jean Paul Gaultier and Karl Lagerfeld saying they do not see themselves as artists, but rather as innovators of products that appeal to a market and generate revenue.  Another fashion giant, Miuccia Prada, has made similar comments.

-- Another point suggested in the trailers is that fashion combined with celebrity is "bigger than both of them."  But let's think about some of the celebrities:  Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, Cher.  They are good at self promotion and their faces are familiar, but I have a hard time caring about what they wear or what they have to say.  I don't think I'm the only one.
     Put simply, the "celebrity" component in current fashion, like the celebrity component of almost all today's culture, seems pretty shallow.  Celebrity appearances may boost sales of $25,000 tickets to a charity party, but I'm not sure their presence ennobles the "art" that they pretend to support.

-- Andre Leon Talley, a prominent Vogue ambassador, says in one trailer that "The Met Ball is the Super Bowl of social fashion events."
       Let's take his comment and go with it.  Is the Super Bowl art?  Certainly some of the coaches and players display amazing talent in their metier.  Certainly there are celebrity players who are influential in our modern culture.  Certainly professional football, like high fashion, is a commercial enterprise that generates much popular interest.
     Given the definition advanced above, is the merger of athletic talent and celebrity and commerce (including affiliated sports clothing) not also an art?
      For that matter, what isn't?

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