On the heels of the 2016 installment of the fashion-and-art orgy that is the Met Gala, Haley Mlotek reviews a new documentary about last year's gala for n+1. Entitled The First Monday in May and directed by Andrew Rossi, the documentary, which Mlotek deems an extravagant failure, nonetheless has the virtue of clarifying the distressing similarities between the art and fashion industries:
The recurring question that May asks of its viewers and subjects is whether fashion can be art. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say the film wants to ask who will let fashion be art, concerned as it is with the gatekeepers of institutions like the Met that have historically disparaged “the decorative arts.” Koda speaks wonderfully to this point, calling the American relationship with art one with deep Puritanical roots; any kind of commerce is seen as ruining art, which excludes all fashion, something Koda considers an unfair generalization. (I am inclined to agree.) But throughout the course of the film it becomes clear that Koda, Bolton, and Wintour have their own kinds of puritanical ideas about art in commerce. Their art form is commerce, and they seem to resent that their responsibilities as curators get in the way of their responsibilities as merchants. They love fashion, the business, as an art form, and not fashion, the art, as a profitable enterprise—a difference they would prefer us not to think too deeply about.
By making a movie that asks us to see the concerns of Chinese benefactors, Chinese journalists, and the curators of the Department of Asian Art as barriers to the successful execution of an exhibition supposedly about China, Rossi surrenders any possibility of gaining true insight into one of the most important industries in the world. Despite constantly invoking the idea that “East meets West” is a valiant goal for the curators of this exhibition, at no point does their introspection go further beyond the superficial appreciation of a gown based on Western fantasies of China. The film does not spend any time asking us to think about, for example, the importance of purely transactional business relationships between East and West, or of the educational responsibilities of museums
Image: Still from The First Monday in May. Via n+1.