A major Alexander McQueen exhibition will open in Victoria at the end of 2022 | National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)
Fashion designer Alexander McQueen once said, “If you want to know me, just look at my work.” Australians will soon have the opportunity to do so, with a major exhibition exploring his designs and influences opening at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in December.
Sixty garments and accessories will travel from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma) to Melbourne for Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse, with 50 other creations from the NGV archives.
Katie Somerville, NGV’s senior curator of fashion and textiles, described the museum’s existing McQueen collection as “a real strength” – so much so that the NGV exhibit will be almost twice the size of the one shown in Los Angeles.
The NGV began buying McQueen designs in 1995, just three years after founding his eponymous label in London, and its collection also includes pieces from McQueen’s tenure at the French house Givenchy, where he worked between 1996 and 2001. Even after her death in 2010, the gallery continued to acquire McQueen designs, with the fashion house currently headed by creative director Sarah Burton.
Clarissa Esguerra, associate curator of costume and textiles at Lacma, said it was an exciting time “when we started talking to our colleagues at NGV and realized they had donors like us and they could expand the show and make it something really special.” .
McQueen was known for his intensely dramatic fashion shows, often as grotesque as they were beautiful, and for his designs that incorporated natural history, mythology, sex, death, and violence. The upcoming exhibition will juxtapose his creations with more than 70 historic works of art from the art movements that inspired him.
“We cannot always know whether [McQueen] was inspired by the exact works” in the exhibition, Esguerra acknowledged, but said the curators hoped to create “more of a conversation” around his influences.
The exhibition will be divided into four themes – myths, shaped narratives, evolution and existence, and technical innovation – which reflect who McQueen was as a designer: equal parts creative genius and enfant terrible.
McQueen began his career as a student of tailors in Savile Row, where he honed his immense technical skills. At 20, he moved to Milan, with no money or ability to speak Italian, and apprenticed with Romeo Gigli, before returning to London to attend Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. He quickly became one of Britain’s most famous designers, before killing himself at the age of 40 in 2010, the day before the funeral of his mother, Joyce.
Her last complete collection, Plato’s Atlantis, was shown at Paris Fashion Week in 2009.
McQueen was fascinated by the power of storytelling, said Michaela Hansen, assistant curator of costumes and textiles at Lacma. This saw him tackle controversial themes and ideas like his fourth runway show, titled Highland Rape Autumn Winter 1995. Intended as a commentary on colonialism and Highland clearances in Scotland, critics criticized his decision to send models on the track in torn and bloody clothes as a misogynist. Several pieces from this collection will be exhibited at the NGV.
Accusations of misogyny were a misinterpretation of McQueen, Somerville said, adding that he stood up for women and made them the center of his personal life and creative world. One was socialite Isabella Blow, who became his muse and a patron by seeing his collection of Central Saint Martins graduates and buying each piece. Clothing originally owned by Blow and fellow muse Annabelle Neilson will also be on display at the NGV.
Somerville credited McQueen as being “capable of breaking the rules and fueling your imagination”, and said the NGV exhibit would be “full of challenge, delight and beauty… [a] wonderful opportunity for our audience to consider his work”.
Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse will open at the National Gallery of Victoria on December 11, 2022.