The first major Australian exhibition exploring the work of boundary-pushing British fashion designer Alexander McQueen has opened at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.
‘Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse,’ organised by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), in partnership with the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), offers an “unprecedented insight into the mind of this seminal designer,” across four themes: Mythos, Fashioned Narratives, Evolution and Existence, and Technique and Innovation.
The exhibition, running until April 16, 2023, showcases more than 120 looks by McQueen, drawn from the LACMA’s and the NGV archive, as well as key loans from designer Katy England’s personal archive, which are presented alongside more than 80 historical artworks including painting, sculpture, photography, decorative arts and works on paper that inspired and influenced his designs.
Michael Govan, LACMA chief executive and Wallis Annenberg director, said in a statement: “Juxtaposing Alexander McQueen’s designs with artworks in a wide range of media opens up a new perspective on his process and artistic legacy.”
The National Gallery of Victoria opens exhibition dedicated to Alexander McQueen
Highlights include some of the designer’s earliest and most acclaimed collections, including the controversial ‘Highland Rape’ (autumn/winter 1995–1996) and the poetic ‘The Widows of Culloden’ (autumn/winter 2006–2007), which both take inspiration from McQueen’s ancestry and Scottish history. In-depth presentations of ‘Deliverance’ (spring/summer 2004) and his final complete collection, ‘Plato’s Atlantis’ (spring/summer 2010), are also featured.
The exhibition also features commissioned headpieces by Los Angeles-based artist and designer Michael Schmidt, as well as garments originally owned by McQueen’s muses Isabella Blow and Annabelle Neilson.
Tony Ellwood AM, director at the NGV, added: “Alexander McQueen is beloved for his boundary-pushing and highly conceptual designs that set him apart from his contemporaries. With meticulous craftsmanship and an intellectual rigour seldom seen on the runways before or since he created a new vocabulary for fashion design that still resonates today.
“Comprising more than 120 works, this showstopping exhibition unites the collections of LACMA and the NGV for the very first time, and celebrates the timeless work of one of the true icons of late twentieth century fashion.”
‘Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse’
The exhibition opens with ‘Mythos’ exploring three collections inspired by mythological and religious belief systems and how McQueen fused religious symbols and silhouettes, historical secular dress and contemporary fashion. Highlights include the untitled collection, autumn/winter 2010–11, posthumously called ‘Angels and Demons,’ which references Christian iconography from the Byzantine Empire as well as the northern and Italian Renaissance.
The exhibition then moves on to Fashioned Narratives considering McQueen’s penchant for narrative-driven collections that explore themes of tradition, discovery, exchange, power, persecution, violence and metamorphosis, as well as his personal roots. This section highlights four collections, including ‘The Widows of Culloden’ (autumn/winter 2006/07) which reflected on McQueen’s heritage and the 1746 Battle of Culloden in Scotland and the ‘In Memory of Elizabeth How, Salem, 1692, (autumn/winter 2007/08) that traced the designer’s familial background to colonial Massachusetts to pay tribute to distant ancestors executed in the Salem witch trials.
While Evolution and Existence examine McQueen’s fascination with life cycles and the human condition and how nature, evolution and death resulted in collections that explored life’s inherent fragility and found hope in its regeneration. This spotlights ‘The Horn of Plenty’ (autumn/winter 2009–10) that critiqued mass consumerism with McQueen countering by recycling famous silhouettes from fashion history and his own archive, as well as ‘The Dance of the Twisted Bull’ (spring/summer 2002) that presents bullfighting as a metaphor for brutality and beauty, while ‘Deliverance’ (spring/summer 2004) presented an allegorical “dance to the death” inspired by the film ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’.
The NGV exhibition also showcases McQueen’s mastery of tailoring and dressmaking and his approach to the female form, and his notion of a dangerous body in Technique and Innovation. This section juxtaposes McQueen's early and later career works, highlighting the designer's technical agility, from works indebted to his formative years as an apprentice tailor on Savile Row to those that show his capacity for fluid drapery, as well as his interest in Western costume history and use of unique surface treatments.
This display features some of the earliest McQueen works in the exhibition, including works from ‘Banshee’ (autumn/winter 1994), ‘Highland rape’ (autumn/winter 1995–1996) and ‘The Hunger’ (spring/summer 1996), which speak to his penchant for savage cutting, and ideas of eroticism and empowerment.
The exhibition also features extensive video footage from McQueen’s catwalk shows, including his 1992 graduate collection, ‘Jack the Ripper Stalks his Victims’ to the confrontational ‘Voss,’ spring/summer 2001, to the ground-breaking Plato’s Atlantis from spring/summer 2010. These are complemented by large-scale photographic prints captured by British photographer Robert Fairer, who spent over sixteen years working with McQueen and who specialises in the art of backstage photography.
‘Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse’ runs at the National Gallery of Victoria until April 16, 2023.