This weekend was spent filling up the reservoir, as it were, as I spent a lot of time with my Grate Frend Beatriz at exhibitions and in art shops. On Friday we went to the blockbuster exhibition about Alexander McQueen at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and on Saturday we went to the Fitwilliam Museum in Cambridge to see the Treasured Possessions exhibition.
I may get round to writing about the McQueen exhibition at some later point, but for now all I can say is that it is every bit as stunning as all the publicity for it says it is. It is more like art than fashion, visually stunning with brilliantly chosen music. It is disturbing and horrifying and delightful and enrapturing. If you like beads, embellishment, fabric, beautiful technique, which you probably do or you wouldn’t be reading this, then this is paradise. But equally you could see demons around every corner and it wasn’t hard to see why he took his own life. So sobering as well as seductive.
On Sunday morning Beatriz and I spent some time in her studio working with what we had seen and, in my case, pouring liquid watercolour as a starting point for a design based on the impression McQueen had left on us. This is mine:
Treasured Possessions, on the other hand, was small and rather restrained, certainly compared with the ravishing excesses of the McQueen experience. It was about material culture, and in particular, shopping and consumption, with a big emphasis on the eighteenth century. Something I would never have predicted was just how lovely a set of Meissen figurines depicting people selling things would be. The very word Meissen brings back Sunday teatime and ‘Going for a Song’ (I am that old) and ‘Antiques Roadshow’. But these were delightful.
My very quick sketch of the Meissen figurines.
I got a huge amount of inspiration for my work on Laura Ashley at this show, which I will write about later, but what I really I want to talk about is an accompanying exhibition to the main show called ‘A Young Man’s Progress‘.
This is a collaboration between sisters, artist-photographer Maisie Broadhead and fashion designer Bella Newell (Burberry); and Professor Ulinka Rublack. In it they take a remarkable book, a collection of images commissioned between 1520 and 1560 by Matthäus Schwarz of his most fashionable outfit of the year and recreate or reimagine them telling the fictional story of Matthew Smith, a young man from North London, who is obsessed with clothes. The modern photographs are sumptuous, I think lifesize, images of exquisite clothing, but what makes them so arresting is the witty reworkings of the original picture. Now, while the Fitzwilliam has postcards of the contemporary pieces, it does not have the corresponding images of the sixteenth century source material so I can only demonstrate using this not very lovely snapshot taken with my phone:
So we can at least see the substitution of the North London scooter for the horse, and possibly appreciate the way the cut of the coat echoes the folds on the original tunic. I really liked the weapon being replaced with the mobile phone in this image.
It’s a shame these aren’t clearer but there is a very good video on the Fitzwilliam site. I loved these photos and the process to create them because they were clever, inventive, aesthetically lovely and they made me laugh outloud. I really recommend this little show, which is separate from the main one, and free and on until 6 September, if you happen to be in Cambridge.