Monday, August 01, 2011

ART PICK OF THE MONTH (July '11): Ode to the Romantic Schizophrenic

Gallery View - Romantic Gothic. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
"Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty"
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Through August 7, 2011

Dedicated to my dear friend Jeremy

More often than not, fashion is fickle and fleeting, derivative and uninspired until the genius of the caliber of McQueen accomplishes that rare feat of turning garments and accessories into nothing less than a pure artistic endeavour. While "Alexander McQueen" the fashion house may evoke images of the giddiness of Paris fashion week and even mass consumption (who can forget the ubiquitous trend of the silk scarfs imprinted with skulls? I must confess I own two myself.... neither of which has seen the light of day since circa 2006), Savage Beauty pays tribute to McQueen the artist, his boundless imagination, impeccable craftsmanship and intellect for, reminiscent of the greatest of artists, the creative and the conceptual are intimately intertwined in each of his works, a more fitting noun for his creations than "designs." The exhibition itself is a marvel too.

As you walk through the galleries in awe of the overwhelming beauty and enthralled in the sensory overload that are the sumptuous, tactile materials, resonant music and theatrical showcases (not to mention, the heaving crowds), certain themes begin to take shape though admittedly, some more convincingly than others. Rising from the assortment of delicate lace, intricate beading, deathly feathers, tough tartan wool and sensuous metal is the irresistible voice of nationalistic and anti-racist sentiment, sexual freedom and self-determination. The art critic Holland Cotter rightly points out how Savage Beauty channels any and all political and social commentary emanating from McQueen's oeuvre in the vein of Romanticism and as a result, fails to capture some of the deeper complexities of his mindset and his place among his contemporaries. Notwithstanding the escapist, Byronic nature of McQueen the Romantic, art critics will have to ask how his real-life context of 1980s and 90s London -- so strongly associated with the YBAs ("Young British Artists," the term coined to refer to the group of artists who began to exhibit together in London from 1988, most of whom were Goldsmiths graduates and had Charles Saatchi for their patron) -- shaped who McQueen was and the work he created. Undoubtedly "l'enfant terrible" and "the hooligan of English fashion" in his embodiment of the unorthodox and avant-garde and his unruly, shocking ways, we shouldn't be blindsided into believing that McQueen actually lived in Victorian England.

This is not in any way to disparage the curatorship and research that went into such extraordinary an exhibition. Romanticism certainly works exceedingly well as an overall framework and, let's face it, a crowd pleaser (aren't we all Romantics at heart?). However, if we're going to -- as we should -- embrace these spectacular creations as "art," then the accompanying art criticism should be held to similar standards as those applicable to more traditional artistic mediums and in this respect, the Savage Beauty catalogue marks only the beginning of the "evaluative process" of McQueen's work. Where I would tend to disagree with Cotter is in his suggestion that the artistic nature of the objects in the exhibition is somewhat jeopardised if unaccompanied by art criticism of a certain, shall we say, "quality," which leads me to touch on the far-reaching debate concerning whether art criticism itself defines what is or isn't "art." From a legal perspective, artists are at times required to articulate the intellectual process underlying their creations in order to be afforded certain legal protections or rights (Cariou v. Prince being the latest decision in favor of art criticism in the context of the "fair use" defense to copyright infringement). However, beyond the realm of the law, I leave it up to you to decide which side to take, that of the artist or the art critic, in such a momentous debate.


  1. interesting post, thanks for the useful article. fitnash health

  2. Some really superb info , Sword lily I found this.
    batman leather jacket

  3. Clark Kent Superman Leather Jacket:
    The fashion house may evoke images of the giddiness of Paris fashion week and even mass consumption