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A Massive Australian-First Alexander McQueen Exhibition Is Coming to the NGV This Summer

Over a quarter-century in the making, this wide-ranging exhibition features around 110 pieces designed by the late, great fashion star, plus art that inspired his work.
By Sarah Ward
May 20, 2022
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By Sarah Ward
May 20, 2022
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Just like fashion collections, gallery exhibitions are all about seasons — and summer at the National Gallery of Victoria is set to be a stunner. To cap off 2022, the Melbourne cultural institution will fill its walls and halls with an Australian-first showcase dedicated to designer Alexander McQueen. Boundaries will be pushed, as they always have been in the late, great fashion icon's sartorial work.

Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse will take over the NGV International between Sunday, December 11, 2022—Sunday, April 16, 2023 — heading straight to Australia after displaying at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), where it's running now. LACMA organised the exhibition, drawing upon 60 garments and accessories from its own holdings, and contacted NGV about both contributing and running its own season. That's where 50 designs by McQueen from the NGV Collection come in, plus other artworks from each institution.

The aim: going deep and broad, rather than stepping through McQueen's career and life in a birth-to-death fashion. Indeed, it's a showcase that the team at the NGV has been hoping to put together since the designer first made a splash in the early 90s.

Installation photograph. Lee Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, April 24–October 9, 2022. Photo © Museum

"In a bigger picture way, we started thinking about Alexander McQueen when we first acquired his work. So, the first examples we acquired came directly from the designer's studio back in 1996 — so over 25 years ago," explains Katie Somerville, the NGV's Senior Curator of Fashion and Textiles.

"In a sense, the desire to represent his work and the recognition that he was someone really significant started back then."

Celebrating McQueen's artistry and impact isn't just about placing an impressive array of his pieces on display, though. At Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse, understanding its namesake involves understanding what inspired him.

"This exhibition is not a retrospective, in that it's not a go-to-whoa examination of him from a more biographical point of view," advises Somerville. "It really does do a wonderful job of exploring him as a creative soul. So, looking at not only his capacity technically — and of course he was astonishingly accomplished in tailoring, cut, dressmaking; his foundation was learning on the job, on Savile Row, in theatre costuming companies in his late teens, and he's known for that incredible craftsmanship and technique, and being very hands-on in his designs. But the overarching premise of the exhibition is really about trying to get an appreciation for all the different sources of inspiration that came to inspire Alexander McQueen."

Alexander McQueen backstage at Pantheon as Lecum collection, autumn–winter 2004–05 show. Courtesy the photographer. Photo © Robert Fairer.

That spans "a myriad of sources throughout art history, ancient history, popular culture, music and cinema across the board," says Somerville, with the NGV's showcase reflecting upon the whole picture. "By using works from our art collection, and the collection at LACMA, we're able to effectively bring together and illustrate some of the sources of his inspiration, so that you can see these incredible works alongside some of the works and artists and references that would've inspired Alexander McQueen. It's a very deep look at his working methodology, but also at his legacy, and why he was so profoundly successful at shifting the nature of how we understand fashion in this contemporary era."

Thanks to the NGV's pieces, Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse includes McQueen-designed items dating back to 1994, and features 25 different seasonal collections — with 20 seasons covered from its own holdings alone. That includes examples from the autumn-winter 1995–1996 Highland Rape collection, the autumn-winter 2006–2007 The Widows of Culloden range, and spring-summer 2010's Plato's Atlantis, McQueen's final complete collection before his death in February 2010.

While charting McQueen's story in a linear fashion isn't on the cards, the exhibition will dive into his oeuvre via various sections. So, with Mythos, three collections inspired by mythological and religious belief systems will sit together. Then, in Fashioned Narratives, four collections that showcase his knack for world-building will be in the spotlight. Next comes Evolution and Existence, which hones in on his interest in life cycles and the human condition — and Technique and Innovation, which is rather self-explanatory. Finally, Dangerous Bodies will highlight early collections with a focus on eroticism and empowerment.

Alexander McQueen. Look 38, Look 40, Look 41, The Widows of Culloden collection, autumn–winter 2006–07. Courtesy the photographer. Photo © Robert Fairer. © Alexander McQueen. Models: Natasha Poly, Querelle Jansen, Tanya Dziahileva.

Another must-see part of all of the above: behind-the-scenes snaps by photographer Robert Fairer, taking audiences backstage at McQueen's shows — because his parades were an event and an art.

If it sounds huge, that's because it is. The NGV is no stranger to big summer fashion exhibitions, with Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse following its massive celebration of Coco Chanel's work from December 2021–April 2022.

Sitting in between the two couture-focused spreads: The Picasso Century, which'll see the NGV International hone in on Picasso — and his pals — across its winter season.

Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse runs from Sunday, December 11, 2022—Sunday, April 16, 2023 at the NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne. For more information, or to buy tickets, head to the gallery's website.

Top images: Alexander McQueen. Look 38, Look 40, Look 41, The Widows of Culloden collection, autumn–winter 2006–07. Courtesy the photographer. Photo © Robert Fairer. © Alexander McQueen. Models: Natasha Poly, Querelle Jansen, Tanya Dziahileva.

Installation photograph. Lee Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, April 24–October 9, 2022. Photo © Museum.

Published on May 20, 2022 by Sarah Ward
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