‘Lee Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse’ Curators Discuss Upcoming LACMA Exhibition

“Lee Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse,” opening April 24 at the L.A. County Museum of Art, will be the first West Coast exhibition about the influential late designer, putting his clothing in context of the paintings, sculptures, photos, decorative arts, textiles and historic dress that helped inspire it.

The exhibition is the result of a gift of the largest collection of McQueen ensembles outside of the London studio archive, donated to the museum in 2016 by Los Angeles-based fashion collector Regina J. Drucker.

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The last exhibition about McQueen was the 2011 blockbuster “Savage Beauty,” which set attendance records at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

“‘Savage Beauty’ changed the landscape for costume curation and catapulted McQueen to another level. That was a retrospective done in cooperation with the house, and nothing can compare to what was achieved by our colleagues at the Met and the V&A,” says Clarissa Esguerra, co-curator of the LACMA show. “Because that show already happened, we can curate this in another way related to art history. We are trying to illustrate his cycle of inspiration that looked at so many different types or artwork in different times in history.”

McQueen synthesized into his exquisite tailoring and dressmaking references to everything from film (the spring 2004 “Deliverance” collection inspired by 1969’s “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They”) to cutting-edge technology (the ghostly Kate Moss hologram in the fall 2006 “Windows of Culloden” collection).

LACMA’s exhibition will feature 70 complete McQueen looks from 1994 to 2010, including shoes, bags and some hats that belonged to the designer’s muse Isabella Blow, juxtaposed with 200 objects from the museum’s permanent collection.

Left: Alexander McQueen, woman’s dress, fall 2003 Right: Trunk with brocade (Kati Rimo) design, Tibet, 17th-18th century - Credit: © Museum Associates/LACMA

© Museum Associates/LACMA

“We have a dress from his autumn 2003 ‘Scanners’ collection in a silver and black geometric pattern, which we realized is a Tibetan Kati Rimo silk brocade.…We have at the museum two Tibetan trunks as well as Buddhist priest robes with the same pattern, so not only can we illustrate the historic precedent, but also the narrative of the collection telling the story of a journey from Tibet to Japan, reflecting the history of how this textile pattern traveled across borders,” explains co-curator Michaela Hansen.

“His spring 2004 collection, performed as a choreographed show, referenced the film ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They,’ but we were also noticing how it pulled from Americana during the Depression era, so we have period photographs from that era. We were also able to draw parallels to artists from Weimar, Germany, referencing the idea of the dance to the death,” Hansen says.

Why is there such an enduring interest in the designer?

“One reason is he was at the forefront of new technology. His final collection, ‘Plato’s Atlantis,’ was one of the first livestreamed runway shows. And unlike many other artists, there is so much content about McQueen online. Showstudio did all these interviews with him, and because of his presence on the web, and his love for pop culture, he made fashion accessible to people who couldn’t necessarily afford his clothing,” Hansen says.

“Also, thematically, he was tackling a lot of issues we’re still tackling — understanding colonialism, misogyny, climate change, identity,” adds Esguerra. “He said in so many interviews, if you want to know about me, just look at my clothes. In every collection, he’s trying to make sense of the world.”

“Lee Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse,” April 24 to Oct. 9 at the L.A. County Museum of Art.

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