To understand the new documentary The First Monday in May, which opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre, it helps to have a little context. Back in 2011, Andrew Bolton, curator in charge of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, put together Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, one of the museum's most popular exhibits. Staged shortly after the fashion designer's death, it brought massive crowds to the museum.
That exhibit also became an albatross, as Andrew explains in the film, because it turned into the exhibit against which all others were measured. So Andrew, an articulate Brit who joined the Met in 2002 after working at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for nine years, set his sights on China.
Director Andrew Rossi (Page One: Inside the New York Times) captures the drama of organizing the exhibit and the opening night gala that drew A-list celebs such as Kate Hudson, George Clooney, Jennifer Lawrence, Kanye West and Justin Bieber. In fact, figuring out who sits where and how to accommodate the various entourages becomes a real problem for the party's organizers.
As Andrew conceives the exhibit, he becomes hyper conscious about not exploiting Chinese art and culture. He enlists Wong Kar-Wai as the exhibit's artistic director and really aims to portray "the influence of Chinese aesthetics on Western fashion and the myriad ways in which China has fueled the West's creative imagination."
The resulting exhibit lives up to the hype and includes everything from antique vases to a glowing "bamboo forest" and Warhol portraits. It's visually stunning — credit Rossi with capturing its striking beauty.
The film also raises the issue of what constitutes art and suggests the line between high and low art has become blurred. That concept is nothing new; while it gives the movie an academic edge, it's the least compelling dimension. Rather, the film's strength lies in providing viewers with a ticket to the hottest party in town.