Both Tate Britain and V&A Museum have exhibitions about Alexander McQueen, that are now open to the public.
I had an exclusive look a the photography exhibition of Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process at Tate Britain last week.
This exhibition is timed to coincide with the V&A’s Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty fashion exhibition.
Since ‘Working Process’ has opened first, I wanted to share you all my thoughts about the exhibition at Tate Britain and later compare it to the retrospective at the V&A.
Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process is a collaboration between two titular artists and juxtaposing the subject matters of fashion, journalistic photography, and conceptual art.
This was incredibly jarring when I first entered the exhibition and first works you see are bulldozers, landfill sites, recycled waste, fitting models and mood boards, with minimal wall captions.
Nick Waplington is a British photographer whose work centered on social commentary, identity, and conflict. He is widely known documenting conflict in Gaza.
He does not declare himself a ‘fashion photographer.’ So how did the two respected artisans end up working together?
The Photographer and the Fashion Designer
McQueen reached out to Waplington and wanted him to record behind-the-scenes and team operation of the A/W 2009 collection titled, “The Horn of Plenty! Everything and The Kitchen Sink” in his secret London Studio.
What I’ve learned about McQueen, is his interest in Historic and Contemporary Art. He admired the likes of Allen Jones, The Chapman Brothers and Hieronymus Bosch. He was not in a Fashion bubble.
McQueen rarely opened his studio to the Press but he wanted Waplington to be the one to photograph his working process.
Initially, Waplington turned down the opportunity. But through persistence and timing, the collaboration will go ahead.
The outcome was a photobook which Waplington developed and chose the photos while McQueen sequenced it. The maquette of the photobook is displayed in the exhibition.
There are two parts to this Exhibition that I took away from this exhibition
It is fiercely drenched in satire and aggression. The models are plastered with latex red ‘clown’ smile, this is not an easy portrayal of femininity.
The introduction of landscape photographs of landfill sites and recycling plants alongside with these McQueen’s beautiful and unique collection perplexed me.
I begin to question: the throwaway culture of fashion, should we feel guilty as consumers of fashion? This juxtaposition of the two conceptual ideas blurs the idea of Fashion.
McQueen regularly recycled patterns to create new garments. The dress that looked like they were made out of bin bags were made of the finest and expensive silks. There was nothing sustainable in the materials of the clothes, even though they were orchestrated to look like it was. It was high-end fashion.
It is so poignant that the day the Exhibition opens to the public, is the 6th year anniversary of ‘Horn of Plenty’ A/W 2009 Collection at Paris Fashion Week.
The Legacy of McQueen
This exhibition is an intimate and candid insight of the workings of Alexander McQueen’s studio. He was involved in everything from the pattern cutting, pinning and sketching, his team instinctively follows and meets his needs.
It is good to hear from Waplington himself that McQueen was happy creating this collection.
McQueen was a highly private individual, he only trusted Waplington to take the photographs.There was an antidote that McQueen didn’t like his photo taken after the Paris catwalk show was finished. He rushed backstage into the car and Waplington had to take photos with his compact digital camera. You’ll see these photos en route to the exit of the exhibition.
McQueen admitted to Waplington, at the landfill site, that a bulldozer he considered to be his self-portrait
In summary, I would highly recommend listening to the free mobile guide to accompany you throughout this exhibition. Which you can find here. Although there are wall texts in the exhibitions, I found it distracting to read. Hearing the conversations between fashion writer Susannah Franke and Nick Waplington added to the experience. Also, the mobile guide is non-intrusive.
The last room of the exhibition is my clear favourite. My photography does not do it justice: the detail that goes into shooting backstage of the fashion show. Also seeing the McQueen at what he does best. This is a conceptual, fine art exhibition, opposed to the retrospective fashion exhibition at the V&A. The themes and the curation are intimate, candid and dark.
For any fans of McQueen, I would recommend seeing this exhibition first before seeing the retrospective at the V&A. I’ve learnt so much about McQueen and his working practice, that I can appreciate his designs a lot more. When I see McQueen’s designs, I cannot forget about the team who builds it.
Who is this exhibition for?
This exhibition is for anyone who is interested in
- process of creation
- conceptual art
I hope that helps you all to make an informed decision. Have you seen this exhibition? Did you learn a lot from it? Are you going to see the V&A exhibition?
Please comment or message me.
I loved to hear what you guys think
Tate Britain: Exhibition
Adult £16.00 (without donation £14.50)
Concession £14.00 (without donation £12.70)
Under 12s go free (up to four per parent or guardian). Family tickets available by telephone or in the gallery.