Sizzling Summer Shows

High fashion, inventive design and captivating portraits at NYC museums

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There’s no better way to beat the heat in NYC than spending a couple of hours in a cool (literally and figuratively) museum, and this month offers a fantastic variety of shows to choose from. We’ve selected a few outstanding exhibits ranging from Chinese-influenced fashion to eerie portrayals of self-presentation. Now, go chill!

One of the Met’s largest exhibits ever, China Through the Looking Glass fills the Anna Wintour Costume Center and the museum’s Chinese Galleries, plus an additional space usually devoted to Egyptian art. This magnificent show, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Met’s Asian department, illustrates the enormous influence of Chinese  culture on Western fashion throughout the years. Seeing the old and new side-by-side, it’s clear how sumptuous 19th-century court robes and other ceremonial garments influenced the clothes of designers Tom Ford and John Galliano, not to mention current, cutting- edge Asian designers. One of the exhibit’s signature pieces is Roberto Cavalli’s gorgeous 2005 evening dress, inspired by 15th-century blue and white porcelain; On the other end of the spectrum are simpler outfits inspired by the utilitarian uniforms of China’s Cultural Revolution. Scattered throughout the rooms are dozens of film clips chosen by filmmaker Wong Kar-wai with William Chang, showing the undeniable impact of Chinese (and Chinese-themed) film on fashion. Lovers of couture, Chinese art, history — and visual splendor in general — will all find this fascinating. (Through 8/16, 1000 Fifth Ave. at 82nd St.)

Thomas Heatherwick has been called “The Leonardo Da Vinci of our times” (by fellow British designer Sir Terence Conran) and the Cooper-Hewitt exhibit Provocations: The Architecture and Design of Heatherwick Studio shows exactly how this inventive artist earned that moniker. This is the only East Coast stop for the show, which was organized last fall by Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas and focuses on 43 of Heatherwick Studio’s projects, from small, personal products to the Bombay Sapphire Distillery in Laverstoke, England, and the 2012 redesign of London’s double-decker buses. These designs are shown through prototypes, presentation and sketch models, mockups, objects, photographs and film and video footage. On view is Heatherwick’s whimsical Spun chair; made of rotationally molded plastic, the chair rotates like a top and is fully functional at all angles, the perfect mix of art and fun(ction). Visitors are able to explore exhibit items and projects via an “object river” of high-resolution images, which flows down the center of a digital table. (Through 11/1, 2 E. 91st St. at Fifth Ave.)

New York-born-photographer and filmmaker Laurie Simmons, who began working in the 1970s, has long been interested in self-perception, masking and disguises. Her first solo museum exhibit in New York City, the Jewish Museum’s Laurie Simmons: How We See, is a series of recent, large-scale photographs of fashion models seated in front of a curtain, cropped from the shoulders down. Inspired by the online “Doll Girls” community – people (especially young women) who alter themselves via make-up and cosmetic surgery to resemble Barbie Dolls, baby dolls or Japanese anime characters – these images evoke compellingly alien-looking high school portraits. This is due to prismatic lighting, unusual clothing details, and (especially) the models’ unnerving stares, created by painting exaggeratedly large eyes onto their closed eyelids, a classic Doll Girls technique. Through these images, Simmons explores contemporary ideas of beauty, identity and persona, and the ever-widening gap between reality and artificiality facilitated by social media. (Through 8/9, 1109 Fifth Ave. at 92nd St.)