Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty @ The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

Alexander McQueen
Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

I was in NYC last week and made a point to see this spectacular exhibition of work by the late British fashion designer, Alexander McQueen, who died in 2010 at the age of 40 by suicide. Not knowing quite, what to expect, I was drawn into the retrospective with curiosity, wonder, and admiration.

The first room featured a rather tame group of architecturally tailored suits deconstructed from the traditional to eloquently form to the female body, really showcasing McQueen’s ability to construct attire in a formal, yet avant-garde manner. Moving through the beautifully curated exhibition, one room houses floor to ceiling cubicles of sculptural details, accessories, corsets, headgear and other elements, thematic inspirations varying from the Victorian age, the grotesque, animalistic, diverse materials and concepts of fantasy. Here is where the theatrics of McQueen’s designs start revealing themselves. You can see his broad range of ideas and moments of expression – elements that seem to have poured from his complex (and tortured?) soul. It would be difficult not to find a few of your very own favorites in each room, even if the crowd visiting the exhibition seemed very main-stream non-fashionistas, but always full of wonder.

One of my favorite areas of the exhibition was the “Cabinet of Curiosities” with beautiful wall applications in the gallery including antiqued Victorian-inspired frames and speckled mica mirrors, creating the perfect dark yet elegant atmosphere for the mannequins clothed by McQueen’s drama. One after another, costumes of extravagance and contradiction. The true marriage of Beauty and the Beast.

Another installation was the “Highland Rape,” where McQueen celebrated and honored the British monarchy and his Scottish roots, to a level of sarcastic rebellion, but always in an elegant way, nothing like the previous British punk fashion scene.

McQueen’s complex deconstruction of Romanticism and his self-proclaimed goal to “empower women” albeit in their savage state can be seen not only in his forms and concepts, but also in his use of amazingly sensuous materials: feathers, intense beadwork, lace, organza, animal bones, and silk. His women may have been torn and tattered, but prevail none-the-less. His inspirations were not from specific women, but tragically doomed women from history such as Joan of Arc.

Although McQueen’s creations were extremely dramatic and the exhibition was aptly designed and curated to showcase his work, I was less impressed by the multi-media aspect of the installation which included a hologram and a couple of videos showing his work in action on the runways. I’m sure the experiences of seeing McQueen’s work being worn and activated must have been much more impressive seen live in person.

McQueen was truly an artist using fashion as his medium to express his concepts and passions in a perfectly controlled and skillfully executed representation of grotesque beauty in form and material.

Here are a couple of links for more information about the exhibit from the New York Times:

Alexander McQueen in All His Dark Glory Savage Beauty, a show at theMetropolitanMuseum of Art, celebrates the British fashion designer and his wildly imaginative vision. May 3, 2011 – By Suzy Menkes – Fashion & Style

Alexander McQueen Show at the Met – Review A Metropolitan Museum exhibition of work by Alexander McQueen, who committed suicide last year, surveys the career of a designer who used…. May 7, 2011 – By Holland Cotter – Arts / Art & Design

Slide show from the NY Times

Runs through July 31 @ The Metropolitan Musuem of Art (admission by suggested donation) –

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art

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