The Met’s Off-Key Gala: Tone-Deaf in a Discordant World

Today is Met Gala day. So why am I not feeling particularly celebratory? Partly because it’s also the day when Columbia University felt compelled to cancel its main commencement exercises “after weeks of pro-Palestinian protests” (Associated Press); when Russia said that it would hold military exercises with troops based near Ukraine, “to practice for the possible use of battlefield nuclear weapons” (NY Times); and when “Condé Nast reached a last-minute contract agreement with the labor union representing hundreds of staffers at titles such as Vogue, GQ and Glamour (Washington Post), after the workers made a not-so-veiled threat on X (formerly Twitter) that they would disrupt the gala if no agreement was reached:

Screenshot from “X”

Neither the Met nor Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue and global editorial director of Condé Nast, can have been happy with today’s NY Times advance report on tonight’s gala, which uncharitably noted that “this year, Shou Chew, the chief executive of TikTok, the primary sponsor of the Costume Institute’s exhibition this spring, was named an honorary chair of the gala. In the weeks since that announcement, Mr. Chew has been summoned to appear before a congressional committee, and the company’s Chinese owner has been told that TikTok will be banned in the United States if it is not sold within nine months.

Wintour is not the first doyenne of fashion publishing to play a key role in the Costume Institute. She had a less controversial predecessor. As stated in this 2016 Met press release:

The legendary fashion arbiter Diana Vreeland, who served as special consultant from 1972 until her death in 1989, created a memorable suite of exhibitions, including “The World of Balenciaga” (1973), “The Glory of Russian Costume” (1976), and “Vanity Fair” (1977), galvanizing audiences and setting the standard for costume exhibitions globally.

Like Wintour, Vreeland served with distinction as editor-in-chief of Vogue.

I played hooky from the Met’s press preview this morning for Sleeping Beauties (the Disney-esque title of this year’s signature Costume Institute exhibition), not as an expression of disapproval but out of sheer cowardice: I rescinded my previous acceptance of my press preview invitation “due to my (perhaps excessive) concerns about possible protest turmoil,” as I wrote to the Met’s press office, which had asked to be notified of any change in plans to attend. For the first time ever, attendees were asked to bring a QR code, emailed in advance, to be scanned for entrance to the preview.

I’m also missing at least part of the livestream (starting at 6 p.m. ET) of the red-carpet scrum, due to my intense interest in my grandson’s softball game. We all have our priorities, right?

Nevertheless, I do expect to have a less somnolent take on “Sleeping…” in a future post.

My screenshot from livestream of Met Director Max Hollein’s introduction to Sleeping Beauties” press preview

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