Forget Rihanna and Cate—the real star of “Oceans 8” is the art

Emmanuel Leutze’s
“Washington Crossing the Delaware” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Works from the museum’s actual collection featured prominently in the film.
Emmanuel Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Works from the museum’s actual collection featured prominently in the film.
Image: AP Photo/Richard Drew
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The female-only revival of Steven Soderbergh’s Oceans franchise went all in on the star power. Arguably the summer’s most anticipated film, the just released flick features the likes of Sandra Bullock, Helena Bonham Carter, and yes, Rihanna, in major roles. But beyond switching out the Bellagio for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oceans 8 treats audiences to other famous names—like Amedeo Modigliani, Vincent van Gogh, Christie’s, and Cartier—by granting them camera time as well.

The film’s racuous heist plot centers around the theft of a piece of Cartier jewelry: a 6-pound vintage necklace on loan to actress Daphne Kluger—played by a deliciously biting Anne Hathaway—for the film’s staged Met Gala. The necklace in question is fictionalized as the “Touissant necklace” for the movie, but is inspired by a real Cartier piece crafted in 1931 by Jacques Cartier for the Maharaja of Nawanagar. And while the Touissant necklace is made of white gold and zirconium oxides, the French jewelry house drew on archival photos of the original piece to recreate it in their Paris workshops.


Logistics meant that much of the film’s gala scenes were shot in a Long Island studio, but director Gary Ross didn’t skimp on filming the Met’s real art collection—which means a well-trained eye can catch the works of Paul Cézanne, John Singer Sargent, and Emanuel Leutze in key shots.

Indeed, according to a statement given by Ross, The Met’s collection was given the same treatment as any major film stunt would get, as in there were literally “‘safety’ meetings for the art.” Ross also noted that close collaboration with the Met staff was ongoing during the 10-day shoot, which is the longest the museum has ever allowed for filming.

And for the modern art pundits, there’s an entire plot point dedicated to a supposed prank by cult street artist Banksy, which involves him switching out a Met painting for one of his own in a nod to a real-life Banksy scheme from 2005 (paywall).  That caper saw Bansky install his own provocative works into museums across New York City without curator permission.

Ocean’s also showcases New York’s more intimate creative scene: At one point, Bullock’s character Debbie Ocean—sister to the potentially dead Danny Ocean—pays a visit to Cheim & Read, a swanky gallery on west 25th street in Manhattan. We also get a glimpse inside of Vogue’s magazine office, and spend time at Christie’s, one of New York’s famed auction houses, which is reimagined as “Yardley’s” for the film.


Iconic fashion houses also featured prominently in the movie, which is no surprise considering the robbery was staged on the night of the Met Gala, aka fashion’s biggest night out. The film version of the Met ball assumed the theme “The Scepter and the Orb: Five Centuries of Royal Dress,” and filmmakers called on Vogue’s international editor, Hamish Bowles, to curate a faux exhibition for the event. To do so, Bowles borrowed royal-inspired gowns from high-end fashion houses like Alexander McQueen, Valentino, and Zac Posen, and wrote actual wall text and labels for each costume as if in a real exhibit.

Of course, this year’s actual gala theme was “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” and featured Rihanna in a custom-Balmain papal get-up accessorized with a real-life Cartier necklace.

Rihanna at the 2018 Met Gala in Cartier jewels.
Rihanna at the 2018 Met Gala in Cartier jewels.
Image: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters