Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse Curated Exhibition at National Gallery Victoria showcases more than 60 looks drawn from LACMA’s holdings of important works by McQueen, the Melbourne presentation also features more than 50 looks by McQueen from the NGV Collection, as well as key loans from designer Katy England’s personal archive, making this Australian-exclusive presentation especially rich and comprehensive.
Alexander McQueen (1969 – 2010), one of the most significant fashion designers of the late twentieth-century, was lauded for his conceptual and technical virtuosity. McQueen’s critically acclaimed collections synthesised his proficiency in tailoring and dressmaking with encyclopaedic and autobiographical visual references that spanned time, geography, media and technology.
The juxtaposition of garments and artworks highlights McQueen’s creative process and capacity for storytelling, as well as offering audiences an opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation of his artistic legacy and the nature of inspiration.
The special curated exhibition explores McQueen’s oeuvre across four themes. Mythos explores three collections inspired by mythological and religious belief systems, incorporating visual references to diverse cultures as well as art-historical movements.
Untitled (Angels’ and Demon’s) looked to the art of the Dark Ages ‘to find light and beauty’, borrowing from Italian and northern Renaissance art, while Neptune saw the designer drawing upon imagery from the Classical period.
While these collections put McQueen’s impressive breadth of artistic source material on display, they also highlight a practice of external inspiration-seeking that characterized fashion design during his career.
Fashioned Narratives considers McQueen’s penchant for worldbuilding, highlighting four collections that tell original stories or reimagine past events. Rooted in McQueen’s personal history, these romanticised narrative collections explore themes of power, persecution, violence and survival.
In Memory of Elizabeth How, Salem, 1692 (AW2007/08) traced McQueen’s genealogy to colonial Massachusetts to honour a relative, one of the first women to be executed in the Salem witch trials.
The Widows of Culloden (AW2006/07) reflected on McQueen’s heritage and British violence in Scotland during the 1746 Battle of Culloden.
Blending British and Indian history with punk references, The Girl Who Lived in the Tree (AW2008) centred on a fairy-tale narrative written by his friend and muse Annabelle Neilson inspired by an ancient elm in the garden of McQueen’s Sussex home.
Evolution and Existence examines McQueen’s fascination with life cycles and the human condition. The designer’s considerations of nature, evolution and death resulted in collections that explored life’s inherent fragility and found hope in its regeneration.
Technique and Innovation demonstrates McQueen’s masterful abilities in garment construction and approach to the female form across his career through a series of dedicated displays focusing on tailoring, dressmaking, deconstruction and the notion of a dangerous body.
Within this section, Dangerous bodies features some of the earliest McQueen works in the exhibition and the NGV Collection, including works from Banshee (AW1994).
Highland rape (AW1995/96) and The Hunger (SS1996), which speak to his penchant for savage cutting, and ideas of eroticism and empowerment.
McQueen’s use of inventive fabrics, surface treatments, and emerging technologies, such as laser cutting and digital printing, will also feature and highlights the designer’s innovative design approach.
Also featured in the exhibition is extensive video footage from McQueen’s iconic runway presentations; from his 1992 graduate collection, Jack the Ripper Stalks his Victims to the confrontational Voss, SS2001, to the ground-breaking Plato’s Atlantis, SS2010.
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.
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.
The Melbourne exhibition emphasises the contribution of philanthropist Krystyna Campbell-Pretty AM and Family, whose generosity has transformed the NGV’s Fashion and Textiles collection and made its holdings of designs by McQueen the largest and most significant in Australia.
The LACMA exhibition also highlights a substantial gift from Los Angeles-based collector Regina J. Drucker that has greatly enhanced LACMA’s collection of works by McQueen, which is the largest held by a public institution in North America.
"Juxtaposing Alexander McQueen’s designs with artworks in a wide range of media opens up a new perspective on his process and artistic legacy. We are thrilled to share this groundbreaking exhibition with Australian audiences, and we are grateful to Regina J. Drucker for her incredible generosity in making this presentation possible." Said Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director,
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