Oh, Art. How I love you. I don’t know that I loved you as a child, but I know that I love you now. Sometimes I love you with such an intensity that I didn’t know existed that I’m overwhelmed. This has happened on several occasions in the past and I find that it is continuing to happen. Each time that I’m overwhelmed, I am also inspired.
Most recently, I found myself inspired by two very separate exhibits, in two different venues and cities, with two different friends and in two extremely different state of minds.
The first exhibit is the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. I don’t know what I expected upon entering, but I know that I did not expect to the outrageously long line, nor the amount of people who wanted to see this exhibit. I also did not expect to love Alexander McQueen.
Now, going into this exhibit, I knew of Alexander McQueen. My mother is only a fashion designer/seamstress. I remember during her days at the Virginia Marti College of Fashion Design in Cleveland, Ohio talking about him being an amazing designer. I also remember her devastated reaction upon learning of his death. That is where my knowledge begun and ended. Until viewing the exhibit.
As I battled the crowd and waited patiently in line, I made my way into the entrance of the exhibit and was left shocked to my core. The dress made of microscope lab slides painted red on top and dyed feathers on bottom is one of the most unbelievable pieces of dressmaking I’ve ever seen. For a minute, I stood there stunned that someone could sew together microscope lab slides. Then I realized anyone with talent, creativity, and genius can sew together microscope lab slides, pair it with dyed feathers and have some one wear it down a runway.
I walked into the next room to find a heavily nautical themed room full of well-tailored jackets. Not suit jackets. Not dress jackets. Not spring or winter jackets either. Just symmetrical and asymmetrical jackets. Jackets that are worn with pants and skirts. Jackets that define your outfit that day. Jackets that maybe simply define the person wearing them, but offer no form of protection. These jackets are definitely candy to the eyes, but not because of their color, instead because of their structure, texture and very well-tailored seams. Again, as the daughter of a seamstress who kicks ass, walking through that room took me back to sitting in the basement of my house as a child and talking to my mom as she sewed pieces of cloth together. As I write this, I can hear the hum of her sewing machine, inherited from her mother, my grandmother, another talented seamstress, stitching pieces together.
I am by no means comparing my mother to the wonder of Alexander McQueen, but I’m explaining how in a 25-30 minute walk/dodge around hundreds of people, I experienced both awe and nostalgia. I have always worn dresses made by my mother. From the time I was a small child she sewed dress upon dress for me. She still sews me clothes now. Often times, people mistake her clothes for designer garments, or better yet compliment me on her craftsmanship. Which makes sense that the entire time I spent gazing at this man’s genius, I also understood the power of well made clothes and the ability to share a story through them.
Every room displayed a piece of Mr. McQueen. Every piece shared his emotions, expressions, desires, politics, sexuality and sensuality, and most undoubtedly, his tortured persona. I didn’t know Mr. McQueen, obviously, but I wish I had.” It is so easy to say of famous people, “I wish I had known them,” but it is rare that I see/hear the work of someone and think this. Instead, I appreciate their work and move beyond.
The odds of Alexander McQueen and I meeting were slim to begin with, but I’ve noticed that the artists I find myself wishing I had known are the artists that had problems, couldn’t deal with the fame, had dark backgrounds and most importantly have managed to reach the dark place that resides deep inside my own heart.
I don’t want to scare off anyone here, because I’m not a crazy person. Well, okay, I’m crazy, but in a good and positive way. What I’m getting at is that for all of my optimism and good intentions and desires, I also have a place that is sad and cold and dark. A place that allows me to wallow some days. It’s a place that allows me to see the injustices of the world and try to make statements out of them. It’s a place that I look to when I approach my own art. Not everything is rainbows and happiness. Alexander McQueen got that and designed upon that.
As a result, which is the case with most geniuses, he is no longer with us. Which leaves me trying to view the exhibit many more times and trying to get my hands on everything that can help me learn more about him and his talent. The only way to get that education is by viewing as much of his work as I can. His talent and skill reside in every piece he’s ever put his hands on and I will find inspiration from them.
On a completely different note and one that is not so dark or deep, the second exhibit I checked out was Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Early Modern collection of art at The Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania (just a few minutes from downtown Philly). I learned of The Barnes Foundation after watching a fantastic documentary called, “The Art of the Steal” about the city of Philadelphia’s theft of the art collection at The Barnes Foundation.
Now, when I first wrote about this, I was impassioned by the film. I can’t deny that I tend to get excited about things I like and/or care about to levels that most people don’t often experience. What I mean by that is that I get excited at least once a day. This isn’t too common. Yes, there are pros and cons to this type of personality, but what I think matters the most is that my excitability allows for me to keep learning old and new things. It broadens my horizons and often times leads me to things, places, countries, languages, and culture such as The Barnes Foundation.
Going to Philadelphia, I was full of passion. Passion against the city of Philadelphia, to help keep The Barnes Foundation in its current location and most importantly, for the art.
Last Saturday, I picked up my friend at the airport and we jumped in the car and drove to Philly. We had a 2:30 reservation (I wrote a whole long blog post the other day about getting lost and the lessons it taught me), but didn’t arrive until around 3. At that point, I was stressed out, but all it took was entering the main room of the exhibit to relinquish all anxiety.
This collection is astounding. It is jaw dropping and excessive drool worthy. It is simply amazing!That one man could collect the works that he did and mount them in the way he did to subtly move the viewer is an art unto itself.
I can’t tell you what was my favorite piece because there were so many, but I can tell you that I absolutely adore and appreciate Cézanne in a way I never thought possible. His Peasant Standing with Arms Crossed is the piece that I kept looking back to. But then it gets much more complicated. There are so many of my favorites in five small rooms– Monet, Matisse, Picasso (including a Guitar piece that I would love to have for myself), Modigliani, Degas, and Van Gogh. He had so many other artists that I don’t even remember!
What I can tell you is that I sat in the room looking at a piece by Matisse, I thought, “I could sit here forever.” My heart-felt so full in that moment. Much like the scene in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, where his heart grows so large and breaks the box. I know it may seem silly that I got so excited and full off of art, but isn’t it the point of art after all? Aren’t we supposed to react to the beauty behind each piece?
As an artist, this is how I would want people to feel about my work, so I’m glad it is the way I felt about the art of these legendary contributors to culture and society.
If ever I felt a moment of my butt being kicked in the direction of motivation, it was here, in the rooms of The Barnes Foundation, surrounded by talent and the genius of one man who made it his legacy to collect art for the ages.
I am thankful that I had the opportunities to see both exhibits at least once. The Barnes Foundation collection is being moved to a new facility in Downtown Philadelphia within a year, I believe. I won’t be making a point to visit it then. The Alexander McQueen exhibit closes August 7th.
Go and feast your eyes. You won’t be sorry if you do; you will be sorry if you don’t.