What does the Lunar New Year mean to you? This is a question New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) is asking audiences as the world plods into the Year of the Ox. Its own reflection, after the most disruptive of years, involves a comprehensive virtual celebration of the East Asian holiday.
Programming ranges from curator-led tours of the museum’s Chinese masterpieces, to community based activities such as Chinatown Bingo, to arts and crafts sessions held live on the Met’s Teens Instagram account. The multilingual nature of the program and promotions on the museum’s WeChat and Weibo accounts evidences a willingness to engage Chinese audiences at a time of travel standstill, but the Met has also been deepening connections throughout the Year of the Rat by reinvigorating its IP licensing program in China.
In 2018, the Met signed an agreement with Alfilo Brands, a Shanghai-based master licensee and retailer, and has since sold a range of products aimed at piquing the interests of young Chinese consumers on a host of Chinese e-commerce platforms. The museum may have been closed for much of 2020, but throughout the year, it remained extremely active in China and partnered with an increasingly diverse range of brands. Here are four highlight collaborations.
Collaborating with cosmetic brands popular with Chinese Millennials and Gen Z-ers is an established formula for global institutions looking to tap into youth culture. The Met worked with Max Factor on a nine-palette eyeshadow inspired by Piet Mondrian’s 1921 work Composition. The campaign was fronted by Chinese-Thai pop star Sunnee and featured a lipstick and compact set, which were sold on Chinese e-commerce platforms.
The Met worked with young Chinese designer MM Mai Meng and her label Meilleur Moment on a line of breezy summer apparel largely inspired by the museum’s collection of works by French Impressionist Claude Monet. Launched under the strapline, “Journeying Towards Monet’s World” (去往莫奈的世界), the pieces included a shirt dress that wove in Monet’s paintings of the Rouen Cathedral, skirts incorporating elements from The Manneporte, and silk shirts and pure cotton t-shirts inspired by Houses on the Achterzaan.
The first collaboration between a major U.S. cultural institution and leading Chinese gaming IP. Games for Peace, Tencent’s mobile version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds game which boasts more than 100 million players, created a limited-period “fantasy mode” in which players visit the Fifth Avenue museum (developers included a feature allowing players to partake in the ritual of sitting on the museum’s steps). Players can browse museum highlights including Rodin’s The Thinker, Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave, and the Sphinx of Hatshepsut, before embarking on an underground adventure. The collaboration included a series of offline pop-up events in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen.
In January, the Met teamed up with a brand older than the museum itself: Twinings, the British tea purveyor founded in the early 18th century. Together, they launched a collection of teas in limited edition packaging that incorporated some of the museum’s celebrated portraits. Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat paired with Earl Grey, and English Breakfast with Thomas Sully’s portrait of Queen Victoria. The campaign promised office workers a “break from the monotony of the workday” and was sold on JD.com for $12.