It took me a while to decide to publish this article as my appreciation for the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum, Savage Beauty is as great as my inability to write something consistent about it. In fact, the exhibition manages well to maintain this feeling as the fascinating work is counter balanced by some flat quotes from McQueen himself that do not help us to interpret his work in a coherent way – but maybe that is a mistake to want to do so. I will try to embrace this mistake though.
Let’s start with the exhibition title then: Beauty, yes beauty is there fore sure. and it’s hard to remain indifferent in front of this work Savage, on the other hand refers to something a bit more articulated as a form of romanticism that is claimed by A.McQueen all along the show. In fact, there is something fictitious, if not mythological in his work. An important majority of dresses seems to come from an ambiguous time between several periods of the past but developing a vision of the future that envisions the body and its clothing as two things that might hybrid each other to form a sort of nostalgic cyborg. Somehow, one might even compare that to the literature current that has been called as steampunk, a branch of science fiction that mixes the traditional vision of technology – the one of the 19th century Industrial Revolution – with its new paradigm of the end of the 20th century implying the invention of cybernetics. Of course here, it is not so much about the Industrial Revolution than other periods of the past but this feeling of mix of eras is clearly tangible; a sort of uchronia in which Humans are both in perfect control of their technology but also live in a more animal realm. In this regard, this notion of savageness here allow us to think of all those dresses as new skins that compose a camouflage, which is not to be understood as a defense mechanism here but rather as a celebration and narration of their environment, both in time (as I wrote above) and in space.
The quintessence of this notion of camouflage and of a technological animals can probably be observed in the ceremonial of the Dress no 13 (see video below all photographs) in 1999 when two assembly line robots seem to adopt a wild behavior that ends up in their ejaculation of painting on a white dress of a woman that seems to hesitate between terror and ecstasy.