Considering Alexander McQueen

Alexander McQueen, Butterflies, 2008

Alexander McQueen, Butterflies, 2008

Yesterday I went to the Met to see the Alexander McQueen retrospective Savage Beauty. I thought I might beat the crowds by going first thing on a Tuesday morning. No such luck. One of the guards on duty told me that it's never not packed, every day from open to close. The exhibit has broken Met attendance records, been extended by a week and surely could go even longer than its currently scheduled run through August 7th. Suffice it to say--there's a reason it's drawing crowds. Just go.

Curated by Andrew Bolton of the Met's Costume Institute and designed in conjunction with long-time McQueen collaborators Joseph Bennett, Sam Gainsbury and John Gosling, the exhibit is exquisite, not just because it offers the opportunity to view McQueen's stunning pieces at a pace, but also because it does so with the same level of craft, care and love that he devoted to his work. It must have cost a bomb to produce--each of the eight rooms is a separately produced high-end showcase, beautifully lit and soundtracked, helping to compensate--as much as humanly possible--for the cheek-to-jowl crowds.

There's no way in such a defined space with twenty years of material to fit everything in, and I was as interested in what was left out as I was in what was included. Perhaps partly because it's the Met, the exhibit is, in the end, a very classic take on what was a very modern career. This is McQueen as serious intellectual artist and couturier--which he most certainly was. But in addition to pushing design boundaries in his work, he also pushed technological and commercial edges and had a strong sense of wit and play. These facets of his story are mostly subtext, if present at all--the commercial being near absent. That said, not only because it's the Met, but also so close to the time of his death, the somber interpretation seems fitting. Perhaps future assemblages will bring those elements to the fore.

There are still a few ways to circumvent the crowds to see the exhibit: reserve a ticket for a Monday viewing when the rest of the Met is closed, purchase a ticket for a private tour with curator Andrew Bolton on Monday, June 27th or attend the Young Members Party on Thursday, July 7th.

If you go on your own, rent the audio guide--McQueen's teachers, collaborators, models and clients provide valuable context to his story. And if you go this Sunday, June 19th, McQueen model and athlete Aimee Mullins and the Costume Institute's head curator Harold Koda will be speaking together about the exhibit, art, body and fashion at 3:00 pm. A video of Andrew Bolton discussing the exhibit with the New York Times' Horacio Silva is here.

Photo: Getty Images