The first major Australian exhibition of the late British fashion superstar Alexander McQueen will come to Melbourne this summer, almost 13 years since his death in 2010 – and seven after the significant Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition broke records at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A). ), with more than 480,000 tickets sold.
Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse will open at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) on December 11, and is the result of collaboration between that institution and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), where it opened in April.
Instead of re-attempting a comprehensive, biographical retrospective such as Savage Beauty (initiated by the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, where it premiered in 2011), this new exhibition celebrates each museum’s extensive holdings of McQueen’s work, including great private bequests.
Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse also relies on the ongoing collections of LACMA and NGV to discover the eclectic inspiration for the work of the designer, who ranged from 15th century religious art to 18th century Scottish history, cinema, birds and butterfly.
The show will feature 25 McQueen collections and almost his entire career, from Banshee in 1994 (his third and other professional collections on the runway from his now legendary St Martins graduation show, Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims) to his last full collection, glittery from 2009. Dedication to Nature, Plato’s Atlantis.
NGV began collecting McQueen in 1996, procuring work directly from the designer – including pieces from his key collection Highland Rape, where he controversially sent models down the runway in distress and disorientation positions, wearing torn and stained clothing in response to British violence against Scotland. in the 18th and 19th centuries.
It wasn’t the only time McQueen explored his Scottish heritage on the runway, and the NGV exhibit will point to another key collection, with 12 appearances from The 2006 Culloden Widow, relating to the brutal 18th-century battle between British forces and Scottish ‘rebels’, and encapsulated repetitive McQueen motifs such as tartan, birds and lace.
Alexander McQueen’s NGV iteration: Mind, Mythos, Muse will build on the 60 garments and accessories presented at LACMA’s exhibition (based on their extensive fund, the largest in North America) and add nearly 50 additional designs from the NGV collection.
The exhibition will occupy the exhibition space on the ground floor of NGV, where the Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto exhibition recently closed.
Katie Somerville, senior curator of fashion and textiles for NGV, says that fashion nerds will especially appreciate the set of “toiles” (“draft” or prototype versions of dresses) included in the exhibition.
Somerville, who was in her first year as an assistant curator in NGV’s fashion department when the gallery first acquired McQueen’s work, worked on the exhibition with Danielle Whitfield (curator of fashion and textiles, NGV) and curators from LACMA.
She says: “[McQueen] had a very curious mind; he had an amazing collection of books [and] he was very interested in history. And he went out and entered the collections a lot and looked at the works in the warehouse. Claire Wilcox of the V&A, for example, had experience approaching items in the collection for that purpose. “
Clarissa Esguerra, assistant curator of costumes and textiles at LACMA, who initiated the exhibition following a large donation of McQueen pieces by collector Regina J. Drucker of Los Angeles, says she and her team were almost like detectives working to identify some of the more obscure references designer.
“McQueen was an encyclopedic artist, drawing on inspiration from around the world, different time periods and media,” says Esguerra.
In designing the exhibition, she says that the early “aha moment” occurred when she and her colleagues watched a dress from the Scanners collection (2003), which referred to the story of migration from the Arctic tundra of Siberia, via Tibet, to Japan.
“We looked at the geometric pattern on the fabric and we were like, ‘What is this? What is this pattern? Can we identify it? Does it matter?” And it is – it is a pattern that is very important for Tibet, because it was used as a Buddhist textile, and that textile motif moved to Japan with Buddhism.
“So [we realised that] he tells the story of migration and fashion based on the history of textiles – and our minds were thrilled. We were like, ‘Oh my God, can we figure this out with other objects?’ ”She recalls.
She says John Matheson – a collector and archivist of McQueen’s work – was also an invaluable consultant at the exhibition, combing through old interviews and notes from the exhibition.
An exhibition like Alexander McQueen’s: Mind, Mythos, Muse is only possible because of the nature of both LACMA and NGV as ‘encyclopedic museums’: an institution whose collections cover a variety of media around the world and throughout history.
At NGV, the exhibition will feature more than 70 works of art and items from their permanent collection – including photography, paintings, sculptures, antiques, textiles and historical fashion – in what should be an intriguing blend of art and fashion.
Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse will be on display at NGV International, Melbourne, from December 11 to April 16.
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