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Columbia Museum of Art bringing Alexander McQueen exhibition: 'He was considered an artist'

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Garments designed by Alexander McQueen. Photo provided by Columbia Museum of Art/Photo Barrett Barrera Projects

The Columbia Museum of Art is taking a turn toward the haute couture for the headlining exhibition in its 2023 calendar.

The museum announced on Dec. 20 its exhibition schedule for the coming year, and it was headlined by an October exhibition on famed fashion designer and artist Alexander McQueen and photographer Ann Ray, who photographed much of McQueen’s career over 13 years.

In bringing the McQueen exhibition — which will include over 50 garments designed by him and 60 of Ray’s photographs — the museum will likely draw a regional crowd to the Main Street institution.

“We’re expecting the Alexander McQueen and Ann Ray show to be a major show for us because of the name recognition,” said Jackie Adams, the museum’s director of art and learning.

McQueen was the designer behind the eponymous label Alexander McQueen and one of the top names in the high fashion world, particularly in the late '90s to early 2000s. The designer, who died by suicide in 2010 at age 40, also had high-profile roles with Givenchy and Gucci, while creating what are considered some of the most notable garments in recent history.

He was also a target of musicians like David Bowie and Björk for their tour attire.

And while the fashion isn’t a museum’s more obvious fare, like paintings might be, Adams considered his work to be art alongside visual works like that or sculpting.

“What makes McQueen so different and unique … is he was considered an artist as well as a fashion designer,” Adams said, noting he was inspired by artists like M.C. Escher in his design work. “(He’s) one of those designers that transcends the definition of just being a designer.”

“In the visual arts, we're so used to the painting or the sculpture being the medium, but for McQueen it was the fabric,” she continued.

While McQueen is the recognizable name in the exhibition, it also includes a set of photographs from the fashion designer’s friend and artist, Ray. Those photographs are primarily in black and white and are a mix of behind-the-scene runway show shots and those of McQueen in other moments.

Adams reasoned that the photos offer an honest depiction of McQueen, while also offering unique looks at some of his most famed moments. Of those is one of the late ‘90s show where model Shalom Harlow was painted by robots on the runway. It’s a prime example of the way McQueen subverted fashion norms and inserted an artistic flourish.

“I think (Ray) does a beautiful job capturing the essence of who he was,” said Adams.

The museum’s year also includes at least seven other exhibitions. That includes the annual Art Blossoms exhibition but also a number that focus on diverse and underrepresented artists and groups, Adams said.

Among those are a June to September exhibition on Catawba art, a regional indigenous community; a February to May exhibition focused on “Art from the Islamic World”; another on “Ascendant Women Artists”; and others on Black art and veteran art.

The calendar is made up of both exhibitions organized by the museum and traveling exhibitions, like the McQueen one. Adams noted that the McQueen exhibition is a unique grab for the museum as well, with it seemingly a more typical fit for museums in metropolitan areas like New York City or Los Angeles.

“It does seem a little atypical to bring him to Columbia — but we like that as well,” Adams said.

David Clarey joined Free Times in November 2019 as a food and news writer. He's constantly fighting competing desires to try cooking food at home and spending his entire paycheck on Columbia restaurants.

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