"They came from all over the world," Vogue's Anna Wintour observed of the 300-odd people she met while signing catalogues of the Costume Institute's record-breaking exhibit, "China: Through the Looking Glass," at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Wednesday afternoon. Wintour and curator Andrew Bolton posted up right outside the Asian Wing at a white linen table from 3 to 4 p.m., divided by a bouquet of fresh flowers and armed with fresh sharpies.
The book signing, announced just the day before, was a way for the museum to promote the exhibit before it closes on Monday, sell a bunch of catalogues and honor its blockbuster attendance. As of Aug. 16, more than 671,000 visitors had seen the show, surpassing the record set by "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty" in 2011.
"It's so fascinating to sit here and ask people [about the exhibit]," said Wintour. "We had so many people tell us they’d been five, six, seven, eight times. There was one very excited person who had been 20 times."
That excited person was Andre Chandler, a 19-year-old college student from New York. "I thought this exhibition was the best, it was really over the top, it just drew me in. The most I've done is three days in a row," he said. Chandler had heard about the signing through the Met's Instagram, but most people in line just happened to be visiting on Wednesday. He was one of many students waiting among the typical weekday crowd of tourists, mother-daughter duos and groups of friends.
To my surprise, no one was dressed ostentatiously and the earliest people only ended up waiting for about two hours. A no-photography rule kept the line moving, but Wintour didn't decline photos when asked.
I asked an Australian tourist, Debby, about her signing experience.
"[Wintour] said, 'Oh, do you know Baz Luhrmann?'" Her four companions erupted in laughter at the idea. Her friend, Peggy, felt so overwhelmed by the encounter she almost leaned on a sculpture — she likened it to meeting Mick Jagger.
After the signing, Bolton said he has been impressed by the diverse crowd of visitors the exhibit has attracted since its opening on May 7. "It's really expanded our demographic," he observed. "We are seeing more men in the exhibition and it's speaking to a younger audience as well."
For those who missed the opportunity to meet Wintour and Bolton, the Metropolitan Museum has other plans to sweeten the pot for visitors before Monday. The exhibit will be open until midnight on Friday and Saturday, and the Great Hall balcony will feature a full bar serving steamed shrimp dumplings and lychee martinis. Sounds like more than enough reason for a 21st visit.