A lot of museums have taken to hosting exhibits featuring fashion. And while many of those exhibits are good for business (both from donor and attendee perspectives), I've been skeptical that they really achieve the level of artistry that I expect from the world's great museums.
Sure I've attended and enjoyed several such shows. There was last year's show at the Met showcasing the history of women through fashion. There was also the Yves Saint Laurent show at the de Young in San Francisco. Those shows were great, but they were fashion shows. That's why the biggest surprise of my recent trip to New York was the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibit, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. This isn't fashion. This is Art. It's visual Art. It's performance Art. And I'm pretty sure it will stand the test of time.
Just as brilliant as McQueen's creations is the presentation. No pictures were allowed so I've taken some images from the Met's and other Web sites. But make no mistake, these images in no way capture the the brilliance of the actual show. My favorite room in the exhibit was a futuristic version of a Romantic-era cabinet of curiosities.
The room featured objects, videos, and audio (make sure to get the audio guide). I spent a lot of time in this room. I loved the dress on the right with the video from the original presentation above. And the audio guide had an interview with the model who wore the dress which was painted by robots on the runway. Here's a photo of the finished dress:
I think the Met is accurate in it's suggestion that McQueen embraces a Romantic sensibility. His fascination with nature and the macabre is evident. I loved this dress crafted from razor-clam shells.
One of my favorite pieces in the show was this dress made with yellow glass beads and horse hair. The beading was spectacular. Its three-dimensional execution was a demonstration of ultimate craftsmanship.
One of the things I found most interesting in this exhibit is McQueen's willingness to give credit to the artisans who helped him create his vision. Many first-rate artists today like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst don't execute most of their works. And they never give credit to the people who do. Alexander McQueen worked with brilliant artists and was willing to give them the credit they deserved. Take this corset created by Shaun Leane:
Leane made a concrete cast of the model's body so he could perfectly form the aluminum rods. The corset is hinged and once the model is inside, each rod is bolted closed.
I can't end this post without calling out the work of Guido Palau, who created all of the headpieces in the exhibit. These strange and wondrous creations were spectacular.
If you're anywhere near the Met in the next couple of months, go see Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.