I have a friend who recently took a job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I knew that part of her job would be working to help execute any upcoming costume exhibitions, but when she texted me the other day, telling me “Yeah, the exhibition opens on Monday (May 2nd),” I didn’t think anything of it.
And then I got to see The First Monday in May. I wanted to slap myself for not realizing the connection and not realizing the enormity of a spring costume exhibition at the Met. While I admittedly don’t know very much about the 2016 exhibition yet, The First Monday in May was eye-opening.
The First Monday in May chronicles the creation of one of the Met’s most acclaimed costume exhibitions in recent years, “China: Through the Looking Glass,” and the accompanying Met Gala. It’s more than just a documentary about picking out pretty outfits and arranging seating charts, though. The First Monday in May tackles the debate as to whether fashion should be considered art, the role that cultural appropriation plays in Western fashion, and the attempt to find balance between the beautiful and the intellectual.
The film begins with a focus on Alexander McQueen and the 2011 “Savage Beauty” exhibition that followed his tragic death. For a few minutes, I began to wonder if the film was really about the China exhibition. Andrew Bolton, successor of Harold Koda and current Head Curator of the Met’s Costume Institute, begins then to talk about the enormity of that exhibition, and how subsequent exhibitions never quite got the critical acclaim of “Savage Beauty.” Then, everything made sense – this film was about the challenges of creating an exhibition that would surpass “Savage Beauty.”
There isn’t much that this movie doesn’t seem to touch upon. The viewer hears the perspectives of not only Andrew Bolton and Anna Wintour, but also other artists and designers who are involved with the show whether that be directly or indirectly. We see promotional visits to China. We learn about the version of China that is portrayed in old Hollywood movies. On a more superficial level, we get a glimpse into what it’s actually like to be at the Met Gala, and what it’s like to be in the final, finished exhibition space.
For the sake of not spoiling the film, I won’t say much else. I will absolutely recommend it, though! If you love fashion, art, history, celebrities, or just like to watch beautiful things shimmer and glitter before your eyes, you’ll really enjoy it. Despite how serious it sounds, there are definitely lighthearted moments that left everyone in the theater chuckling. It’s now taken a place in my top 5 favorite fashion-related films.
Theaters and showtimes can be found here.
If you’re interested in taking a visit to the Met, their spring 2016 exhibition, “Manus x Machina” opens on May 2nd.