Alexander McQueen At The Met: An Essential Exhibit, An Extraordinary Career


“I find beauty in the grotesque, like most artists. I have to force people to look at things.”

The Costume Institute‘s “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is insanely beautiful, intensely dramatic, and — most importantly — profoundly moving. Spanning from McQueen‘s Central Saint Martins graduation collection to his posthumous autumn/winter 2010-11 show, the exhibit celebrates an extraordinary and prolific career cut tragically short.

McQueen’s work gave us insight into a creative mind consumed by passion, beauty, darkness, and drama. While viewing clothes in fashion editorials and runway videos is often the way we experience his (and all) collections, it goes without saying that nothing compares to seeing the pieces in person. And for all the excitement of his runway shows, it is only through an exhibition such as this one that the clothing can be fully analyzed and absorbed. There is nothing quite like being greeted by two magnificent creations from the VOSS spring/summer 2001 collection, and actually seeing a dress made out of ostrich feathers and glass medical slides alongside one made of razor-shell clams. In photos, they impress; in person, they mesmerize.

For the most part, the exhibit’s curation veers away from gimmicky built environments, allowing McQueen’s exquisite craftsmanship to steal the show. The galleries are organized thematically, but there is a nice sense of chronology, with the first gallery including pieces from his graduation collection (Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims, 1992) and the last featuring a row of mannequins modeling looks from the final collection he bowed (Plato’s Atlantis, spring/summer 2010).

One gallery is devoted almost entirely to the hats, shoes, jewelry, and bodypieces that McQueen both produced and commissioned to complement his clothes; Philip Treacy‘s headwear and Shaun Leane‘s metalworks are obvious standouts. Another gallery is narrow and mirrored with mannequins on revolving platforms, while yet another focuses on his “romantic nationalism” by showcasing his Scottish-themed collections (including autumn/winter 1995-96′s Highland Rape). There are pieces from his time at Givenchy, as well as a miniature version of the Kate Moss hologram from his autumn/winter 2006-07 Widows of Culloden show.

The soundtrack — largely orchestral with dramatic show music mixed in — only adds to the haunting nature of the work in question. Videos made for various runway shows are sprinkled throughout, and quotes from McQueen are posted alongside the gallery identifications. It’s a lot to take in. In fact, it’s so overwhelming that it practically begs for repeat visits.

This exhibit stands to prove many things, not the least of which that fashion can be art, that clothes can move you, and that beauty should never be undervalued.

“Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” is on view today through July 31 at the Met. Images of the exhibit, courtesy of the Costume Institute, can be seen below.


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