July 27, 2011

"Savage Beauty" At the Met

In my attempt to stay au courant in the worlds of art and style, and to keep you, my dear readers, up to date on the latest and hippest, I undertook a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's summer blockbuster "Savage Beauty". Now usually a trip to The Met is a pleasure and something I approach with enthusiasm, but this exhibition was a little outside my realm. Not to mention the fact that the queues were reputed to be horrendous no matter what hour of the day one chose to visit. But realizing that this is a show that "must" be seen, I recruited my most fashionable friend, Betty, to venture with me over to Fifth Avenue and wait the hour and a half in line before confronting the masses of visitors intent on seeing the life work of Alexander McQueen.

Alexander McQueen burst onto the British fashion scene in 1992 at the age of 23 and remained a "pedal to the metal" superstar until his death by suicide last year. Not without controversy in both his designs and his personal life, McQueen was known for drama and extravagance on the catwalk and his collections were sought after by celebrities around the world. For the Met's annual Costume Institute show, they have chosen to honor the late designer's creativity with a retrospective of his work presented in a suitably dramatic setting.

Within galleries titled "The Romantic Mind", "Cabinet of Curiosities", "Romantic Exoticism" and "Plato's Atlantis", the curators have presented collections ranging from "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" to "Highland Rape" from "It's Only A Game" to "Widows of Culloden", each in a highly decorated, sensory-overloaded environment.

Take for example the spinning, mirrored disco-gone-crazy gallery meant to represent a music box but a far cry from the little plastic ballerinas I grew up with! Or the mannequins posed alongside natural history objects in display-cases like a museum within a museum but with films of fashion shows playing non-stop. Or the video installation of a glass coffin appearing out of the ether with glass silently smashing to expose a reclining nude covered with insects to accompany McQueen's "VOSS" collection. The outfits too were crafted out of unusual objects including steel skeletons, balsa wood, dried flowers, bird heads, razor clam shells and football helmets.

There were moments of clarity however, even for a non-fashionista like me. The ode to McQueen's Scottish heritage (and his revolt against British "oppression") featured garments with a tartan theme that I do actually remember from the magazines and some of them were quite lovely and wearable. The video of his fashion show where the models moved about a checkered board as if in a chess game was inspired and beautiful. And the hologram of Kate Moss dancing in a white gown with hundreds of floating layers was breathtaking indeed.

I make no pretensions about my sense of style - I am decidedly un-fashionable - but I do appreciate good design. My strongest reaction to the exhibition was that Alexander McQueen, apart from being overtly homosexual, did not like women and his clothes were in no way intended to accentuate or beautify the wearer. I was, however, thoroughly impressed with the Met's fabulous installation and ultimately glad that we waited in line to see the show.

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