Tuesday, June 28, 2011

savage beauty: a response

From the Romantic Primitivism gallery. 

“People find my things sometimes aggressive. But I don’t see it as aggressive. I see it as romantic, dealing with a dark side of personality.”

While the internet is teeming with coverage of the Alexander McQueen exhibition, Savage Beauty, I really wanted to write something of a personal response to it having anticipated it so much and been lucky enough to catch it.  

First things first, I would never claim to be the most knowledgeable of McQueen or even to have been his biggest fan (such a complex character warrants equally complex questions after all), but this exhibition is sort of, I am not sure how to put it, but it's really very special. And there is no doubt, that it provides a master class in exactly how an exhibition should be curated - it's perfect; everything from lighting to music to additions such as mirrored cabinets and dresses eerily rotating... it is astonishing.

I got to the exhibition at about half past ten in the morning. This is advised or even earlier (the Met opens at 9.30 I think). Passing the adjoining corridor later on in the day, there was an enormous queue, stretching back through the gallery for seemingly miles. Even at the time I got there, the exhibition hall was exceptionally crowded (despite no queue into the exhibition space) which does unfortunately hamper enjoyment a tiny bit. There is a good deal of weaving in and out of people and you might require something of a brass neck if you want a closer look at something. 

Such technicalities aside, the exhibition was one of the highlights of my recent holiday. The pieces on show are, without being all gushy about it, breathtaking. There is no other word for it. At points (to be exact the Romantic Gothic room which is like a gothic chamber with gilt cabinets featuring some of McQueen's most extravagant and darkly glamorous creations) my eyes actually prickled a little with tears. It is incredibly moving and the apt McQueen quotes scattered throughout are especially powerful. 

I guess, the most poignant aspect of the exhibition is provided in such quotes (in conjunction with the pieces they are displayed alongside). The quotes reveal McQueen's startling fascination with death: '"I oscillate between life and death, happiness and sadness, good and evil."  These snippets into McQueen's psyche suggest that for McQueen, death was not something to be feared but a natural part of our disposition as human beings. Alas, the designer maintained that our existence on earth was all to fleeting to hold on to. He appears to have been simultaneously obsessed with notions of transience and making a mark, and indeed, McQueen embraced both with equal pomp. His utter preoccupation with such matters makes the magnificent clothing on display appear not so much tinged with tragedy but as remnants of some extraordinary war of the mind ( heightened by that signature slashed McQueen quality of many of the works exhibited). They are devastating in their tragedy as much as they are in their beauty and genius.

But aside from such melancholic matters, there is also the affirming nature of the exhibition - affirming in the fashion sense. People are all to generous to brand all fashion as art but I doubt there is any one who has seen this exhibition who didn't come away thinking: 'Mind. Blown'. And this is mind-blowing stuff. It's perfect and terrible, frightening and sublime, fierce and vulnerable all at once. It's like swallowing a sweet elixir laced with poison. Indeed, it is difficult to come to any complete conclusion about what McQueen really saw women as. On one hand, there are beautiful feathered ballgowns and McQueen's desire for women to be strong as opposed to 'naive' (a statement as regard this really struck a chord with me..and perhaps, deserves further consideration) and on the other, there's his fixation with form-constriction and S&M. Like with any artist, there are few clear cut answers.

On finishing the exhibition, my sister and I were exhausted. It's not very long, we're not talking a giant, open gallery space but  it is very tightly composed and in my opinion, of a perfect size. We were amazed though at how, perhaps, without even realising it, what the exhibition took out of us. We were mentally drained, and the rest of the (enormous) gallery seemed liked an unnecessary  mountain that needed to be climbed afterwards. We did wander about though, and as much as I enjoyed the modern and contemporary art works, I could not help but feel haunted in the aftermath. Somehow, I felt chillingly aware of the ephemeral nature of being - here today gone tomorrow - but perhaps ultimately,  haunted too by the creative capacity within us all to both trouble and amaze and maybe even someday, to inspire. 

For further info visit here.
And an excellent in depth review here.

Hologram of Kate Moss, Fall '06, on view at the exhibition (set to the heartbreaking Schindler's List's score)


Sarah said...

Great post Kathryn - really well consideread and beautifully written. I almost felt as if I was there.

My Third Cousin and Sarah said...

I know what you mean about the fatigue experienced from "looking" its the sign of something really great though. I'm very jealous I would love to see it. Amazing review.

sky@laestetica said...

I highly respect McQueen coz his exhibits/shows are well thought of. he relates his works to biographical and historical references as if saying that fashion can only happen within a realm of history.

btw pls check out my site

Anonymous said...

I adore the dark enchantment of his work...great piece of writing x

Anonymous said...

I love Alexander McQueen is just so artistic. I love it.
Great post.