Alexander McQueen’s Iconic Designs in Costume Institute Retrospective at Metropolitan Museum
May 4–August 7, 2011 (Extended)
The spring 2011 Costume Institute exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, is on view May 4 through August 7 (new, extended closing date). The exhibition celebrates the late Mr. McQueen’s extraordinary contributions to fashion. From his Central Saint Martins postgraduate collection in 1992 to his final runway presentation, which took place after his death in February 2010, Mr. McQueen challenged and expanded our understanding of fashion beyond utility to a conceptual expression of culture, politics, and identity.
The exhibition is made possible by Alexander McQueen™.
Additional support is provided in partnership with American Express and Condé Nast.
“Alexander McQueen’s iconic designs constitute the work of an artist whose medium of expression was fashion,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “This landmark exhibition continues the Museum’s tradition of celebrating designers who changed the course of history and culture by creating new possibilities.”
To celebrate the opening of the exhibition, the Museum’s Costume Institute Benefit takes place on Monday, May 2, 2011. The evening’s Honorary Chairs are François-Henri Pinault and Salma Hayek, and the Co-Chairs are Colin Firth, Stella McCartney, and Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue. This fundraising event is The Costume Institute’s main source of annual funding for exhibitions, acquisitions, and capital improvements.
“Alexander McQueen was best known for his astonishing and extravagant runway presentations, which were given dramatic scenarios and narrative structures that suggested avant-garde installation and performance art,” said Andrew Bolton, Curator, The Costume Institute. “His fashions were an outlet for his emotions, an expression of the deepest, often darkest, aspects of his imagination. He was a true romantic in the Byronic sense of the word – he channeled the sublime.”
The exhibition, in the Metropolitan Museum’s second-floor Cantor Galleries, features approximately 100 ensembles and 70 accessories from Mr. McQueen’s prolific 19-year career. Drawn primarily from the Alexander McQueen Archive in London, with some pieces from the Givenchy Archive in Paris as well as private collections, signature designs including the bumster trouser, the kimono jacket, and the three-point “origami” frock coat are on view. McQueen’s fashions often referenced the exaggerated silhouettes of the 1860s, 1880s, 1890s, and 1950s, but his technical ingenuity always imbued his designs with an innovative sensibility that kept him at the vanguard.
Galleries showcase recurring themes and concepts in McQueen’s work. “The Romantic Mind” examines his technical ingenuity, which combined the precision of tailoring and patternmaking with the spontaneity of draping and dressmaking. “Romantic Gothic” highlights McQueen’s historicism, particularly his engagement with the Victorian Gothic, and dichotomies such as life and death. “Romantic Nationalism” looks at McQueen’s patriotic impulses, including his reflections on his Scottish heritage and his fascination with British history. “Romantic Exoticism” explores the influence of other cultures on the designer’s imagination, especially China and Japan. “Romantic Primitivism” captures McQueen’s engagement with the ideal of the “noble savage,” while “Romantic Naturalism” considers his enduring interest in raw materials and forms from nature.
Six McQueen collections that explore his engagement with the Romantic sublime and the dialectics of beauty and horror are featured as groupings in the galleries – Highland Rape (autumn/winter 1995-96), Number 13 (spring/ summer 1999), VOSS (spring/summer 2001), Irere(spring/summer 2003), Plato’s Atlantis (spring/summer 2010), and Angels and Demons(autumn/winter 2010-11). “Cabinet of Curiosities” includes various atavistic and fetishized accessories produced in collaboration with the milliners Dai Rees and Philip Treacy, and the jewelers Shaun Leane, Erik Halley, and Sarah Harmarnee. The Cabinet also displays video highlights from ten of McQueen’s renowned runway presentations, including Joan (autumn/winter 1998–99),What a Merry-Go-Round (autumn/winter 2001–02), and They Shoot Horses Don’t They?(spring/summer 2004).
The exhibition is organized by Andrew Bolton, Curator, with the support of Harold Koda, Curator in Charge, both of the Met’s Costume Institute. Sam Gainsbury and Joseph Bennett, the production designers for Alexander McQueen’s fashion shows, serve as the exhibition’s creative director and production designer, respectively. All head treatments and masks are designed by Guido. The graphic design of the exhibition is by Sue Koch of the Museum’s Design Department.
The design for the 2011 Costume Institute Gala Benefit is created by Sam Gainsbury and Joseph Bennett with Raul Avila.
A book, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty by Andrew Bolton, accompanies the exhibition. It features a thematic overview of Mr. McQueen’s career, with an introduction by Susannah Frankel, fashion editor of The Independent, and an interview by Tim Blanks with Sarah Burton, creative director for Alexander McQueen, who worked closely with the designer for 14 years. It features new photography by Sølve Sundsbø, who shot ensembles from the McQueen archive on live models, then retouched the images to make them look like mannequins. The images combine the movement of an editorial shoot with the authority of a museum catalogue. Quotes from Alexander McQueen, exhaustively researched by Bolton, are paired with the images to enhance understanding of the designer’s viewpoint. A lenticular cover image was designed by McQueen for the invitation to his spring/summer 2009 fashion show. The book ($45 for a hardcover) is published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed worldwide by Yale University Press.
An audio tour, narrated by Andrew Bolton, provides additional insight into the exhibition via interviews with 16 of McQueen’s collaborators and friends including Sarah Burton, Naomi Campbell, Shalom Harlow, Shaun Leane, Annabelle Neilson, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Philip Treacy. It is available for rental ($7, $6 for members, and $5 for children under 12).