The following is the latest edition of "The Weekly TrueTalker" Newsletter.
I got to thinking about the recent Alexander McQueen "Savage Beauty" exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that closed about a week ago. The final tally showed that 661,509 visitors saw the saw since its opening on May 4, the most ever for the Met's Costume Institute. Only seven other special exhibitions—including those of works by Picasso and Van Gogh—ever surpassed this visitor total.
Why were so many people moved to wait in line, often for hours, for an exhibit of clothes by a Scottish-born designer who died a little over a year ago?
In the past few years, Alexander McQueen came to symbolize a certain style of creativity: restless, wild, unconcerned with commercialism, attached to deep archetypal forces. The antithesis of the mundane.
When one says that a dress is "a McQueen," it conjures up images of something challenging, subversive, puzzling. McQueen designed conceptual and visual conundrums. His work was not to be taken lightly. It was not to be fully appreciated at first glance. Its original purpose looked personally expressive; its consequence, to disturb thoughts and provoke feelings; the antithesis of fashion's "slickness."
From this paradox, celebrity flowed, making McQueen part of the fashion glitter world. As the recent sad case of John Galliano demonstrated, the consequences of being at the epicenter of that world can be dangerous. It feeds on itself voraciously. Ambivalence grows within it like mold in a dank cellar.
McQueen's suicide was the final alchemical element for archetypal myth-making. The artist who dies at her/his own hand enters a special cultural realm. Like insects encased in amber, Van Gogh, Rothko, Plath, Woolf, Hemingway, Cobain and now McQueen remain frozen in creative shells. Enigmatic. Timeless. Tragic.
And fascinating. We mortals recognize the rareness of this wild brand of creativity. We are drawn to its source. We want to be in its presence; to be close to what it produced. We want to feel the energy it captured. We intuit that being in proximity to these authentic power objects will be invigorating. They elicit in us a particular kind of awe and oddly silent reverence, perhaps akin to what millions a day experience as they line up before the gilded cases holding the icons of long dead saints.
McQueen's death infused the show's items with a special power. There will be no more like them. His once living fingers crafted them, transformed them from mere materials to the embodiment of a savage spirit; transubstantiated tulle.
Yes, Kate Middleton wore a "McQueen" for her royal wedding but it was as if she were receiving the sacrament from one of the Apostles rather than attending the Last Supper.
Here we were in the presence of the originals...tantalizingly close...
Few modern moments offer the prospects offer the prospect of experiences like these. And so, hundreds of thousands are drawn to them, however dimly aware we may be of the deep sources of their attraction.