Yesterday, Roberta, Arthur, and I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Alexander McQueen exhibit, “Savage Beauty.” I feel like seeing this has changed me.
By the first few dresses, I knew that I didn’t know fashion at all.
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Like most of us, I know fashion because I see it on TV, in magazines, and on the Internet. All of these are textureless, two-dimensional, flattened media. They are facsimiles. Fashion isn’t that. McQueen’s collection of stunning, beautiful, startling, repulsive, romantic, fascinating, frightening, inspiring garmets and accessories is real. It is textured, layered, physical, and present. Silk tulle under a red McQueen tartan dress with a heavy leather belt and delicately beaded sleeves: It’s tactile, it has immense earthiness.
I’ve joked that I like fashion shows better than cooking shows because I can see what the fashion looks like, but I can’t taste the food. But I’m wrong. Savage Beauty was fashion I could taste.
Fashion, I learned today, is real. It is meant to be worn by a person, and therefore meant to be seen close up, as close as the person wearing it is standing to you. All we see is a representation.
I began to think about art and what is real. As if McQueen wasn’t present enough, we walked out of the exhibit, thinking only to decide our next move, slam bang into the European painters section, and there we were among Monets and Rousseaus and Picassos, Klimts and Van Goghs and Renoirs and Seurrats. We were floored. These were real. Many were so familiar, seen in a thousand print shops and hung from a thousand walls. You know people with these prints. So do I. But these were the real brush strokes, painted by the hands that held the real brushes. I saw, in one painting, that you couldn’t actually see the whole sunflowers until you stepped back a bit, so I knew that Van Gogh leaned in, stepped back, leaned in, stepped back. I could feel it.
Art is real. Real paint on real canvas, real terra cotta reliefs, real lace sewn onto real tulle. Like nature, it is there in the being.
We live in a world of facsimile and simulation. The digital representation of an imagined setting “based on a true story.” We live on the Internet. We consume digital media. We know representations and imitations better than we know originals. People think that Mad Men is the 1960s. It’s not. It’s a simulation of the ’60s so that stories can be told today. People think The Sopranos is about the mafia. It’s not. Those aren’t mafioso, they’re actors, simulating the mafia, and the mafioso they’re portraying are also simulating the mafia–that’s why they’re always quoting from The Godfather. I have a tattoo that is based on a photograph of a piece of holzuhren jewelry. That is, an artist made a piece of jewelry, and a photographer (another artist), reproduced it, and then another artist drew it, and then transferred it to my skin, taking it through four art forms; four layers of interpretation before becoming a part of me.
I want this experience to change me. I want, at least for a day, to experience the real and not the imitation. I want to experience art that is art, not an homage to an imitation of a memory of a real thing.
It starts with the understanding that we have the capacity to be touched so much more deeply than we are normally touched, and to reach for artistic, personal, and natural experiences that give us that.
The Met’s Savage Beauty exhibit ends on August 7. Please, if you’re anywhere near New York, don’t miss it!
Sponsored by Dr Ellis Choy