02 July 2015

CreateInsights: Staging Alexander McQueen



During the last CreateVoice meeting we met Rachel Murphy, Exhibitions Manager at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Rachel is currently working on the infamous Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition at the V&A. 


Portrait of Alexander McQueen, 1997 photographed by Marc Hom

Rachel started her career studying literature in Glasgow, which resulted in her working as an Exhibition Officer whilst still in Scotland. Through her work at smaller galleries Rachel was able to become experienced in many fields and gain a broad understanding of the various roles within a museum, before becoming an Exhibitions Assistant at the V&A some 6 years ago. Since then she has been involved in many of the exhibitions that the V&A has held in South Kensington and also those that have toured around the world. 

Contrary to the more traditional course of an exhibition (starting in South Kensington and then touring), Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty actually originated at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It opened in 2011, just over a year after McQueen passed away. Therefore, some time has passed since it was felt appropriate for the exhibition to come to McQueen’s home town of London.

Coiled Corset, Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen

There has always been an association with McQueen and the Victoria and Albert Museum, as he stated himself: ‘The collections at the V&A never fail to intrigue and inspire me.’ Therefore some changes were made to make full use of the space in the V&A to display and respect McQueen’s work to the upmost. These included adding 66 new pieces, enlarging Pepper’s Ghost, a 3D hologram of Kate Moss and creating new galleries: Romantic Primitivism and London.


It was enlightening to hear from Rachel about all the different aspects that she had to consider when constructing this exhibition. For example: liaising with the Met to ensure that they were happy with any changes, analysing contracts and agreements with third parties who would may loan objects or construct the physical galleries within the exhibition space, the safety and security of the objects, the transport and insurance of loaned items, the text to accompany the garments and the maintenance and take down of the exhibition.

These tasks increased dramatically on the run up to the opening of the exhibition meaning that the team expanded from one person to around 3-4. The exhibitions team would work with various departments such as the Press department, the curators and fortunately for us the Learning Team! As a result, the McQueen exhibition has also provided avenues for the museum and visitors to explore, including specialised talks and tours linked to the exhibition.

I feel privileged to have seen Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the V&A and to hear from Rachel firsthand about all the hard work, time and thought that has gone into making it an amazing experience and one that does justice to the late designer.

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty remains open until 2 August 2015, although tickets are now limited. 

Lottie attended the monthly CreateInsights meeting for CreateVoice members in June, to check out upcoming Insights for the youth collective head to http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/c/create/  

Words by: Lottie Moss
Images: © Marc Hom/Trunk Archive and the Victoria and Albert Museum


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