The demand for this show has been so great that that the Museum is offering extended hours from now until Sunday, August 7.
Friday, August 5: the exhibition will be open until 9:00 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, August 6 and 7: (final two days) the exhibition will remain open until midnight. After 9:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, visitors may enter the Museum through the 81st Street entrance only.
My idea of couture is the sale rack at Loehmann’s, but I have taken a spin through Bergdorf’s once or twice, I’ve done some sewing, and Vogue magazine is my go-to reading at the hairdresser. Surely, all of that adds up to experience enough to qualify me as a worthy judge of the Alexander McQueen exhibit, “Savage Beauty,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, through August 7. If you haven’t made the journey into the city to see it yet, I recommend you go soon so you can both claim knowledge of a current event and bear witness to an amazing display of ornamentation, handiwork, outlandish fashion and, yes, bondage.
I was drawn to the show because of a review in the New York Times that detailed some of the unusual materials McQueen had incorporated into his designs: medical slides, razor clam shells, fresh flowers, and burlap, to name a few. I had missed the news of his suicide last year, but learning about it sparked a bit of morbid curiosity and, I admit, I had also heard McQueen’s name bandied about in the endless coverage of the Middleton’s wedding apparel. This exhibit was a must-see.
After waiting in line for over an hour, which is de rigueur for those of us who are not members of the museum, my curiosity and patience were rewarded with a trip through a sampling of some truly fascinating, gorgeous, and unwearable clothing. I am not one to linger in an exhibit -- even after a long line and especially when it’s lunchtime -- so my perusal of McQueen’s work verged on the cursory, but I was attentive enough to notice a few themes.
I’m not sure how ground-breaking McQueen’s use of materials really was in the larger context of the fashion world, but his work is undeniably beautiful, grotesque, magnificent, and, in many ways, visionary. I found his ability to transform feathers, shells, metal and taxidermy into garments both inspiring and disturbing. If nothing more, his designs are amazing artifacts. The beadwork on some dresses, the molded leather on a few bodices, the sculptural “spine” corset from 1998, and many of the outrageous shoes are all examples of the blurring line between art and craft.
I suppose it goes without saying that fashion, in general, has always had a misogynistic bent and that, even in my utter ignorance of the fashion industry, I should know that haute couture is not really meant to be worn. Nevertheless, at the Met, I observed that McQueen took fashion’s disregard for women’s comfort to a new level, all the while claiming that he was innocently exploring the darker side of human nature.
I like the idea that fashion designers are out there pushing the boundaries of what we think of as wearable materials, asking questions about what constitutes fashion and where fashion intersects with art. McQueen is clearly a brilliant example of this movement. I do wish that there was more of a critical approach in either McQueen’s own commentary or in the museum’s display of his work: why was he pushing these extreme boundaries, and what does it teach us about our culture?
McQueen’s designs could, in fact, be viewed as a striking assault on the ridiculous constraints of women’s fashion, yet I gather that his attitude was a straight-forward glorification of his own creativity, perhaps tinged with a dose of violence against women. Acknowledging that he “like(s) the accessory for its sadomasochistic aspect” and that women are “the most perfect dolls” he’s dressed does not necessarily make his exploration of violent and objectifying themes subversive, revolutionary, or anything close to feminist.
I was able to put aside my distaste for the S/M-style leather masks that adorned the heads of almost every mannequin. I got over the fact that the 1995 collection was titled “Highland Rape,” supposedly so-named because of England’s “rape” of Scotland ... but some of those dresses appear to have been torn in very suggestive places.
I shook my head at the videos of one model being (apparently) assaulted by paint-spraying robots and another (apparently) drowning. By the time we got to the beautifully embroidered straightjacket my friend and I just looked at each other and laughed.
I am grateful that Alexander McQueen’s work pushes my feminist buttons while simultaneously adding truly beautiful and exciting objects to the world. I am glad that he was able to produce so much exceptional work before his untimely death. I also appreciate that I live close enough to New York City to see his work on display, and if you are one of the remaining few who has not seen “Savage Beauty,” don’t miss it.
This exhibition may not be suitable for children under five years of age. Strollers are not permitted inside the exhibition.
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