The Alexander McQueen exhibition in Melbourne will celebrate the artist’s inspirations through the NGV collection

The first major Australian exhibition of the late British fashion superstar Alexander McQueen will be held in Melbourne this summer, almost 13 years after his death in 2010 – and seven after Alexander McQueen’s landmark exhibition: Savage Beauty broke records at Victoria & Albert Museum in London (V&A), with over 480,000 tickets sold.

Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse will open at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) on December 11 and is a collaboration between that institution and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), where it opened in April .

The exhibit opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in April.(Provided: Museum Associates/LACMA)

Rather than attempt a full biographical retrospective such as Savage Beauty (initiated by the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it premiered in 2011), this new exhibition celebrates each museum’s vast holdings of the work of McQueen, which include major private legacies.

A model poses with one hand on her hip, wearing a feather headdress and unique blazer, her face powdered white
McQueen’s 2006 collection, Widows of Culloden, will be the focus of the exhibition.(Provided: Robert Fairer)

Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse also draws on the permanent collections of LACMA and NGV to unravel the eclectic inspirations of the designer’s work, ranging from 15th century religious art to 18th century Scottish history, cinema , birds and butterflies. .

The show will cover 25 McQueen collections and nearly his entire career, from 1994’s Banshee (his third collection and his second professional runway collection since his now legendary St Martins graduation parade Jack the Ripper stalks his victims) to to his latest full collection, the scintillating 2009 homage to nature, Plato’s Atlantis.

Shot of fashion show showing line of models wearing structured reptile-patterned couture garments.
Plato’s Atlantis, the last complete collection that was presented while McQueen was still alive, was a commentary on climate change.(Provided: Getty/François Guillot)

The NGV began collecting McQueen in 1996, acquiring works directly from the designer – including pieces from his pivotal Highland Rape collection, where he controversially sent models down the runway in distressed and disoriented postures, wearing torn and stained clothes, as a commentary on Britain’s violence against Scotland in the 18th and 19th centuries.

It wasn’t the only time McQueen explored his Scottish heritage on the runway, and the NGV exhibit will highlight another key collection, featuring 12 looks from 2006’s Widows of Culloden, which referenced a brutal 18th century battle. century between British forces and Scottish “rebels”. , and encapsulated in recurring McQueen motifs such as tartan, birds, and lace.

Four models pose backstage at a fashion show, all with white powdered faces and wearing extravagant white dresses
The NGV iteration of the exhibit builds on an extensive donation of McQueen clothing by collector and philanthropist Krystyna Campbell-Pretty.(Provided: Robert Fairer)

The NGV iteration of Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse will draw on the 60 garments and accessories featured in the LACMA exhibit (drawing from their extensive collections, the largest in North America) and will add nearly 50 additional models to the NGV collection.

The exhibition will occupy the ground floor exhibition space of the NGV, where the exhibition Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto recently closed.

Katie Somerville, senior curator of fashion and textiles for NGV, says fashion nerds will particularly appreciate a set of “canvases” (“sketches” or prototype versions of dresses) included in the exhibit.

Somerville, who was in her first year as assistant curator in NGV’s fashion department when the gallery first acquired McQueen’s work, worked on the exhibition with Danielle Whitfield (curator of fashion and textiles, NGV) and curators from LACMA.

She says: “[McQueen] had a very curious mind; he had an incredible collection of books [and] he was very interested in history. And he went out a lot and went into the collections and looked at the works in storage. Claire Wilcox of the V&A, for example, had experience of him accessing items from the collection for this purpose.”

A hologram of model Kate Moss parades in an extravagant white dress, with a crowd of people watching
McQueen was known for his dazzling and dramatic runway shows that deployed video, special effects and sets, like with this “hologram” image of Kate Moss.(Provided: Getty Images/Andy Paradise)

Clarissa Esguerra, associate curator of costumes and textiles at LACMA, who launched the exhibit after a major donation of McQueen pieces by Los Angeles-based collector Regina J. Drucker, says she and her team were almost like detectives working to identify some of the creator’s more obscure references.

“McQueen was an encyclopedic artist, drawing inspiration from all over the world, different times and different mediums, Esguerra explains.

While designing the exhibit, she says an early “aha moment” came when she and her colleagues were looking at a dress from the Scanners collection (2003), which referenced the story of migration from the arctic tundra of Siberia. , through Tibet, to Japan. .

“We were looking at the geometric pattern in the fabric, and we were like, ‘What is it? What is this pattern? Can we identify it? Does it have any meaning? ‘ And it is — it is a pattern that is very important for Tibet, because it was used as a Buddhist textile, and this textile pattern was transferred to Japan with Buddhism.

A 17th century Flemish Baroque portrait of a boy in a frill, looking serious and to the side
17th century portrait of Frans Pourbus II of Louis XIII, King of France as a boy featured in the LACMA exhibition.(Provided: Museum Associates/LACMA)

“So [we realised that] it tells the story of migration and fashion drawing on the history of textiles – and our minds were blown. We were like, ‘Oh my God, can we understand this with other objects?'” she recalls.

She says John Matheson – a collector and archivist of McQueen’s work – was also an invaluable consultant for the exhibition, combing through old interviews and exhibition notes.

An exhibition like Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse is only possible because of the nature of LACMA and NGV as “encyclopedic museums”: institutions whose collections span various mediums from around the world and across the world. ‘story.

At the NGV, the exhibition will showcase over 70 artworks and objects from their permanent collection – including photography, painting, sculpture, antiques, textiles and historic fashion – in what should be an intriguing interweaving of art and fashion.

Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse will be presented at NGV International, Melbourne, from December 11 to April 16.

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