Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Savage Beauty

We decided to drive to Manhattan yesterday to see the Alexander McQueen exhibition, "Savage Beauty," before it closes this weekend. We were lucky to find free parking nearby, after the Met Museum's's parking attendant threw down his large metal barrier right in front of our car, turning us away from the garage.

We were also lucky that a colleague of my husband's was willing to get us into the museum for free. Showing her badge, she also led us away from the 3-hour line snaking around the upper galleries to the member/VIP/staff line, where we waited less than 30 minutes. Since we often did this for friends and colleagues when we worked at museums, we had no moral qualms about taking advantage of this opportunity. The place was packed, and as we waited for our friend in the lobby, we overheard several conversations about buying $70 memberships to avoid the line. That's one definition of a very successful show. For everyone else, the Met offers a rather flip little printed guide, "The Taming of the Queue," with comments on 17 nearby works of art that visitors can see and study as they wait in line.

The exhibition was fascinating, creepy, and gorgeous, but very crowded. Click here to see selected items. The galleries were suitably dramatic settings for the clothing and accessories, but were clearly not designed for the crowds packed inside. I seldom go to blockbusters and I'm not up on crowd-management techniques, but I do know that the traditional method of putting displays around the edges of a large room did not work in this case. But we were patient and polite in our maneuvering, and managed to see everything we wanted to see, eventually.

I loved most of it. The creativity, the tailoring, the fine embroidery and beading, the witty details, the outrageousness, the historical references, and most of all, McQueen's dark, deeply romantic vision. My husband said it was too bad McQueen had never designed movie costumes. I wondered why he'd want to, unless he was given total freedom — in which case, his costumes would steal every scene, probably speaking more eloquently than the little people inside them. Only great actors could carry such costumes.

Afterward, we visited my favorite painting, Jules Bastien-Lepage's strangely realistic and mystical Joan of Arc, conveniently near the exit to the show. I've always loved it because it's so clear that she is seeing a vision. Something amazing is filling her eyes, and even if you completely lack religion, you can sense her passion. This is something no other religious painting has ever offered me out of all the thousands of Madonnas, saints, and Biblical tales I've seen. I'm not a very spiritual person, but I find this painting surprisingly moving. It's the one religious painting that does its job, if you know what I mean.

Then we spent time in the Egyptian and Classical galleries, which blow those at the MFA out of the water. And then I realized I was starving. Here our luck ended. We foolishly took the car instead of the subway and went down to Spring Street, to Lombardi's Pizza, "America's first pizzeria." We had shared a fabulous pie there a few years ago. And there is a peculiar rice pudding store across the street, and my husband was interested in that. But we failed to find parking, and after more than an hour of fruitless hunting in traffic, we abandoned the idea of eating or wandering in the area. We finally found a spot near a lackluster takeout shop on 6th with one-hour parking. We wolfed down stale, $10 chicken sandwiches, picked up a few excellent doughnuts nearby (four for $11, that's New York....) for the road, and headed home.

I tend to be a cheap date, but not this cheap. While I'm not really in the mood these days for shopping and spending, I'd been hoping to have a good meal with my husband besides getting at least 10,000 steps on the colorful streets of Manhattan. As it was, I had to go for a nighttime walk when we got home. The streets of Back Bay are truly a world away from any in Manhattan, but that was okay with me.


  1. Absolutely amazing, stunning and frightening at the same time. Glad you got to experience it!

  2. I'm so jealous. I wanted to go see that, but unfortunately couldn't fit in the trek from Richmond to New York in time. Glad you got to see it and I could experience it vicariously!

  3. Thank you for the selected items from "Savage Beauty". I've seen this exhibition referenced in several periodicals, and appreciated reading McQueen's comments. Have you read Mark Twain's biography of Joan of Arc? That was a wonderful discovery for me as was the stunning painting you shared.



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