Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Creative Process Journal: The Cabinet of Curiosities for Fashion

The Cabinet of Curiosities at the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty Exhibition at the Met
(Photo by Ingrid Mida 2011)
Most museums today offer an aesthetic of pristine perfection. This connoisseurship bias rejects anything showing signs of use (the sweat or stains of life on a dress for example) or items that are broken or damaged. Order, perfection and education seem to be the guiding principles of museum presentations today, leaving little room for imagination and wonder.

This is quite unlike the idea of the Wunderkammer or Cabinet of Curiosities that were popular in the 15th to 19th centuries (see my previous post). These rooms or cabinets were packed full of objects meant to inspire delight and wonder at the juxtaposition of rare and unusual objects. The aesthetic of dense accumulation of objects is rarely seen anymore although I can think of one museum where it still exists (The Redpath Museum on the campus of McGill University in Montreal).

The Concise Dictionary of Dress, Blythe House 2010
Photo by Julian Abrams
Artists and designers often accumulate a range of objects in their studio for use in the background of their still-life works or as a source of inspiration. Some have used such objects in their artworks and the idea of the cabinet of curiosities has been used as a concept of presentation within a number of exhibitions of fashion and art. The ones that come to mind include: The Viktor and Rolf Retrospective at the Barbican Gallery in London (2008), The Enchanted Palace at Kensington Palace in London (2010), The Concise Dictionary of Dress at Blythe House in London (2010), and Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (2011). In each case,  objects of fashion, such as dolls or accessories, were presented in a type of cabinet or room and inspired a sense of surreal delight. Using the concept of the cabinet of curiosities, I intend to create a museum in a box so to speak for this creative project.

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