What Does The Met Gala 2022’s Record-Breaking US$17.4 Earnings Mean?

The Met’s 150th anniversary in 2020. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art

As necessary lockdowns came into place for the past two years, the world had to shut down momentarily. Galleries, museums and visitor attractions, among many other economy driving forces, were in turmoil. In April 2021, UNESCO released a report on the situation of museums across the world, in light of Covid-19. The organisation estimates 104,000 museums in the world, and in that, 43 per cent faced closures in the first quarter of 2021. And especially for smaller museums, generating income was more challenging than before.

In 2020, when the New York City museum celebrated its 150th anniversary, it was also projecting US$150 million in lost revenue from the pandemic and had to trim off its staff by 20 per cent. Not even the iconic Metropolitan Museum of Art was exempt from the pandemic’s wrath — like many other museums, the Met faced unprecedented closure and an uncertain future.

Did The Met Gala Deliver?

met gala red carpet livestream
Met Gala red carpet livestream. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fast forward to this year, the Met had somewhat of a comeback with its greatly anticipated Met Gala 2022 on 2 May. The theme was “gilded glamour” and as usual, A-listers and influential guests graced the event dressed in dazzling designer pieces. According to The Associated Press, museum officials announced the day after that the gala managed to fetch a record US$17.4 million for the Costume Institute — the largest art museum in the United States. 

Funding will surely not be an issue for the museum, but what about inclusive representation on fashion’s biggest red carpet? What seems to be missing this year, other than some of social media’s favourite stars like Zendaya, Lady Gaga, Harry Styles and Timothée Chalamet, were entirely impressive looks with social or political statements.

Carolina Herrera ranbow cape lena waithe at met gala 2018
Image: Amy Sussman/WWD

In 2018, actor and filmmaker Lena Waithe wore a Carolina Herrera rainbow cape in support of LGBTQ+ rights. Last year, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney started the ‘paparazzi show’ with a loud gown that paid tribute to the women’s suffrage movement. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) stepped onto the red carpet in a white gown with the words “tax the rich” scrawled across. Meanwhile, footballer Megan Rapinoe’s clutch proclaimed, “In Gay We Trust”. Moreover, F1 driver Lewis Hamilton brought attention to recognise the lack of opportunity for many young brands and designers by inviting the crème of Black fashion talent to join him at his table.

The term ‘The Gilded Age’ was coined by Mark Twain in his satirical 1873 novel. The story depicts the vast gap between rich and poor during the late nineteenth century, and the thin veil between both sides made the era look more glossy than it actually was. Behind the glamour lurked issues of poverty, unemployment and corruption.

While some celebrities rolled up with charming and head-turning outfits, critics and netizens seem to want more. Any commentary on Twain’s novel or the wealth disparities of the Gilded Age era were almost drowned out by the glitz of perfect hair and coveted jewellery.

A few prominent attendees like Quannah Chasinghorse and Sarah Jessica Parker highlighted the marginalised groups in that era. American actress Gabrielle Union appeared in a sparkling Versace gown with red crystals to symbolise the blood spilled during the accumulation of gross wealth by some, off the backs of Black people and people of colour in America.

British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed, according to GQ, who acknowledged the upsetting gap, told the press that his outfit was a love letter to blue-collar workers and immigrant workers who kept the country running during a time where all that glitters is not gold.

The small number of guests who came adorned with underlying meanings against about 400 attendees at this year’s Met Gala is still an increased representation of the ‘woke pop culture’. Yet, more can be done, undoubtedly.

What About The Little Ones?

Although we raise a glass to the outstanding funds raised by the Met, it is not lost on us that not every museum or gallery has that same privilege. It seems that the aforementioned disparities were also present in the museum sector.

Maybe if every other museum had some sort of fundraising event, there would not be any alarming closure cases. But alas, we return to the factors of available resources and support. Notably, the Met has used its stature to advocate for less powerful institutions and launched a campaign calling on Congress to provide US$4 billion in aid for non-profit cultural organisations, as per Artsy.

The Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles closed permanently in June 2020. Image: Annenberg Space for Photography

However, many art and cultural filled locations around the globe are still facing painful challenges. Without proper resources or endowment funding, some are forced to discontinue programmes or close its doors permanently. A place where the masses could enjoy, appreciate and educate because of art is seemingly further away from the step ladder. And without funding, some independent and emerging artists cannot express their art to the world, nor have the chance to be recognised in larger art communities.

This begs the question: are the years of making art accessible and representative made irrelevant after a disastrous pandemic and in one glamorous night; is art still only reserved for the rich?

small art institutions
Image: Kevin Dellandrea/Unsplash

Regardless, one thing is certain: museums that are still standing are now more prepared for unforeseen crises and can adapt more seamlessly to other ways of securing income. To mention a few, artefact adoption, virtual reality and digital programming. And expectantly so, NFTs — another aspect that the rich dabble in and a debatable topic as not all art institutions are in agreement with it.

Perhaps, in this discussion on art appreciation for all, the Met or grander museums represent the wealthy and visible in The Gilded Age and smaller non-profits without funds are on the other end of the spectrum. And the call-to-action is that more attention and support needs to be offered to the ones with more to say; those that were not given the same deserving opportunities; the smaller communities that can help build the art scene on a more intimate level.

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Cleo Yong

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