I entered the MET determined, slightly rushed, but prepared (so I thought) to finally see the Alexander McQueen exhibit, “Savage Beauty.” I knew it was going to be amazing, but I did not know I would feel the need to write a blog post about it.
That said, you have all been so patient with my student-life updates, which — I can only imagine — are nowhere near as exciting as reading about the woes of being hospitalize abroad, what it feels like to have stingrays brush over one’s feet at sunrise in the Galapagos Islands, or what it smells like to be at a noodle shop in Kyoto. So, I’m going to shake things up a little. Today, I want to talk about something I’m definitely NOT an expert on: fashion! Or, more specifically, how something I usually feel very detached from — high fashion (besides the fact that I currently live in SoHo and am surrounded by it) — directly hit me with the unexpected exactness of bird crap today (but, good bird crap…err…I think I used the wrong analogy here) and simply made me go: WHOA.
Iguana Hand. Galapagos Islands.
I had been meaning to visit this exhibit all summer, but somewhere between the weekly statistics exams, the Developmental Psych classes and my constant weekend excursions, I managed to make it to the last week of the three-month long exhibit without experiencing McQueen’s genius for myself. I have yet to read a single review of the exhibit, which ends this weekend, but I just knew it was something I wanted to (or, oddly, needed to) see. I’d make it happen.
It’s been almost 18 months since McQueen was found dead, hanging in his wardrobe. [WARNING: uncharacteristically somber subject matter for TwT coming right up!] Reports concluded that he had cut his wrists with a ceremonial dagger and meat cleaver, taken immense amount of cocaine and other drugs, and basically left this world with the same complexity that his art always conveyed: he died with a dark but fascinating bang. Unlike his death, however, his morbid yet striking creations elicit pure awe. Now I know first-hand.
You can appreciate his art as a fashion expert, or you can appreciate it as a regular human being looking at something that simply is so creative and captivating to look at that it communicates in such a way that transcends fashion education. Not everyone has the magic to turn totally mundane objects into barely recognizable yet functional alien versions of themselves. It was like standing in a room and watching Lady Gaga stare at herself in a mirror. The entire exhibit was full of surprises, pain, and blissful self-expression.
Plant at the Orchid Show. Bronx Botanical Gardens, May 2011.
The tragedy is that McQueen could not see the four-hour line I witnessed today, which circled the museum I’ve spent my whole life visiting in a way no exhibit I’ve ever witnessed at the MET has. I’m sure, in some sense, he realized he was brilliant. But sometimes brilliance is more of a ball and chain than an escape route. Or so it seems.
I wandered up the stairs, then to the left, then to the right, then the left again, feeling a little like a mouse in a maze trying to find the damn cheese. But I was a mouse with a membership; no line for me (yes, I felt very lucky). That said, here were people from all over the world — literally — who were willing to spend at least 4 hours of a probably short trip to NYC not even looking at the McQueen exhibit yet, but just waiting to get in. What is it we are all really trying to see? What does it do to us, give us, teach us, that is so worth the wait? [This reminds me of college courses I took that forced me to define “art” and explain the purpose of museums… (The whole fun was trying to answer these questions and the discussions that came with them. I love questions like that! You try to answer them as a comment…)]
When I walked into the first room, the most unexpected thing happened to me: I got choked up. It came out of nowhere! I could barely enter the first room, it was so packed with people, and yet something hit me instantly before I even had a chance to take it all in. I was taken aback. Music floated through the room — dark, eery music like we were all trapped in some strange funhouse and should expect zombies to pop out at any second. Videos of runway shows adorned the walls, ceilings, and sometimes, a box you had to bend down to look into. The costumes fluttered between S&M outfits and headgear, and a fantasy land of floating, gravity-less dresses — a McQueen world of feathers and ruffles that we “normal” people stood there trying to understand. The exhibit was more of an interactive circus than I expected, with all the designs taking on a performance of their own.
Rusty hook. Od San Juan, Puerto Rico.
I’m sure most of you are wondering why I got choked up. Let me try and figure this out. [Thinking.] I think, although it seems odd to say this, it really just felt like McQueen was there with all of us. I was blown away by his creations. Even with all the plastic mannequins standing completely still and lifeless, the energy in each room felt like we were interacting with McQueen himself — like he was performing right in front of us and we couldn’t look away. You could feel his sadness, his pain, his struggle, which seeped through quotes scattered around the displays, and yet you could also see how it all burst out of him as art in a beautifully grotesque (or, I guess, savagely beautiful) way.
I think I have also been so set on my new career plan lately that I have barely had a chance to go to museums, see movies, and appreciate the arts in a way that I am used to. Seeing the McQueen exhibit hit me more deeply than I anticipated; it reminded me of how much I love creativity, individuality, and people following their guts, their hearts, and their passions wherever they might lead them, and how incredible something can be when it is expressed in complete, disarming honesty.
I can’t remember the last time an exhibit made me get choked up. Maybe I’m just becoming a total sap (someone please tell me if I go too far). I guess I am just glad to know that this humanities girl turned pre-health studies “science” girl can still appreciate a little art. It’s ironic that such beautiful work could come out of someone so deliriously sad he chose to take his own life, but what came from that place — no matter how dark or light — is something no other person could ever produce. There is only one Alexander McQueen, and this exhibit takes you right to him, where even though the room is dark, the music eery, and the artwork surrounded by chaos desperately trying to be controlled, there is a certainty, a truth, and a beauty that overpowers all the grotesque. Here’s a guy who gave the world something it couldn’t think of on its own. And now, he’s gone.
I left the exhibit smiling, unsure about why I was smiling, but smiling nonetheless.