Alexander McQueen and the Spectacular Spectacular

I’m still digesting the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty show.

I feel a bit wrong to even write that. But in my defense, there was much to chew on.

Other people have written more (not to mention better) about the show, so I’ll leave that for them.

But some things, for me, were especially notable:

The demographics (which always interest me, everywhere) were surprisingly varied. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, since his designs were part of the recent Royal Wedding (a sliding spectrum of demographics there, after all, but certainly one that skews as far as Queen Elizabeth’s age bracket) and also inspired Kurt’s prom outfit on Glee (hello tweens!).

In a nutshell, this was the most un-Met-like exhibit I’ve ever seen. From the loud music, to the lighting, to the thematic edge and darkness (though denied by Mr. McQueen in the wall text), to the theatricality of the presentation, to the way the galleries were physically transformed, there was no hint that you were in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I was so overwhelmed by the way the exhibition was presented, that all I could think about as I walked around was: This has changed everything.

I think we’re beyond the so-called “blockbuster” exhibit, which began with King Tut in 1977, and generally encompasses the rock stars of the art world, especially Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, and the like. Some would say the Blockbuster is a cynical way to fill a museum’s coffers; some say it’s a democratic rather than esoteric way to display artwork; some say it’s spoonfeeding, unchallenging, as it only gives museum-goers what they want to see.

But even the Blockbuster was still a “typical” museum experience. McQueen changes that. For good or bad, the bar has shifted. Future shows will be compared to the spectacle that was Alexander McQueen.

“Spectacle” doesn’t quite cover it though. The only word I can think of for what I saw comes from the movie Moulin Rouge. Welcome to the age of the “Spectacular Spectacular.”

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