Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, V&A

The genius of Alexander McQueen is a mystery to most… which is perhaps why the new exhibition at the V&A is so popular, giving a rare insight into the renowned and courageous designer.

This grand retrospective of McQueen’s career has transferred from its original home at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. However as Lee was born and taught in London it feels even more monumental at the prestigious V&A museum. Appropriately named Savage Beauty, this exhibition illustrates the brutal but beautiful aspect of his creations. The artist said about himself: ‘I’m a romantic schizophrenic.’

The tailoring is stunning. There are several rooms which display pieces from Lee’s studies and earliest collections. He learnt from a variety of highly skilled masters and worked hard, using the classic techniques to create unique pieces. He gained experience at tailors Gieves and Hawkes and theatrical costumiers Angels and Bermans. McQueen strongly believed that before you can be creative you need to be technically en pointe.

The exhibition has little narrative, instead the rooms are divided by theme and collection. The Highland Rape collection was particularly memorable and shows Lee’s loyalty to his Scottish heritage. The sculptural outfits are daring and striking, made almost entirely in the McQueen tartan print, the clothes make the women look powerful and imposing.

The ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ is hypnotising, an enchanting room of fairytale accessories and garments made from unusual and unlikely materials. Each exhibit is a work of art, a technical tour de force. There is a dress made of razor clam shells and a headdress of butterflies. The clothes are intended to provoke and sometimes even disgust… but even the mud covered dresses and sinister leather zipped masks have sublime qualities.

The final room has a hint of the supernatural. Alien-like figures are dressed in figure-hugging animal print dresses. My favourite was a fully sequined iridescent frock which I stared at for ages imagining myself strutting down a catwalk beaming with confidence.
This is the immortal feeling that McQueen clothes give you, elevating you a magical version of your former self, brilliantly different and weirdly wonderful.

This extravagant exhibition immortalises the great Alexander McQueen, showcasing his imaginative and elaborate designs that will be forever inspiring to the fashion world. One thing’s for sure, there is so much more to McQueen than the commercialised skull print scarves. His vision is completely deserving of the V&A platform.

Exhibition continues until August 2, more information and book tickets here.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MAN: Roy Lichtenstein, Tate Modern

There’s no denying the cultural presence of Roy Lichtenstein – his expansion of comic book graphics is now more identifiable than the original genre. Along with Warhol, he narrowed the gap between art and life and made possible all the pop oriented art from the 60s to the present. The show at Tate Modern attempts to celebrate Lichtenstein’s inventiveness and creative personality beyond the mere appropriation of comic book imagery. By showing his redesigning of the source material (most obvious in the Tate’s 1963 painting ‘Whaam!’) they claim an autonomy and originality for him previously ignored.

On display is early and late work that has not been seen in the UK before that suggests an undiscovered variety within his narrow idiom. Lichtenstein was keen to assert the handmade-ness of his work so as to maintain his fine art credentials, but the early work is surprisingly slapdash and the mature work is so mechanical and perfect that the artist’s touch is invisible. The large room of his classic War and Romance pictures is undoubtedly the highlight of the exhibition, full of punchy, eye-grabbing icons – he is a consummate designer – however the curators’ ambition to present him as a subtle master with covert psychological depth is ultimately unconvincing.

Exhibition continues until 27 May 2013, more information and book here.

Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, Chris Kenny.