Last spring, the hottest ticket in New York City wasn't to the Broadway hit "The Book of Mormon" (though that remains super popular). Instead, lines several blocks long formed outside the Metropolitan Museum of people eager to see the Costume Institute's Alexander McQueen show. People waited for upwards of seven hours to get in....and left happy.
"The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk" is the boffo new show at the Dallas Museum of Art, and it is, without hyperbole, one of the top five museum shows I've ever seen. Part of me wished I could extend my stay in Texas just so I could walk through it again.
And as anyone knows who's ever seen me in person, I'm the farthest thing from a fashionista (I'm typing this blog in a velour "Mesa Verde" souvenir sweatshirt, for heavens sake!).
But the technical bravura of the show, the beauty of the clothes, the interplay of history with culture and creativity--it truly bowls the viewer over.
Let's start with the gee whiz factor. In a brilliant move, meant to make the clothes seem more part of the living world, many of the mannequins have faces that move and speak in the most eerie fashion. These are not Disney-World-esque puppets. Instead, Gaultier and his favorite models were filmed talking. Those images are projected onto the face of the mannequins.
And boy do they have a lot to say. I stood mesmerized before one haughty lady who spit out one witticism after another. My favorite was a comment on the show itself: "Its all too French," she purred. "So many ideas! Too, too many ideas."
Yes, its an overflow of ideas, but that's why it deserves to be in a museum. Some of the clothes are, without hyperbole, great works of art. In one room, ex votos beautiful in and of themselves formed a spectacular, breast-plated evening gown. In another the viewer sees male mannequins dressed in skirts and even elaborate feathers, yet the effect is testosterone charged and makes the viewer rethink their ideas about what's appropriate for each gender.
For pop culture fans there's Madonna's iconic pointy bra bustier, oxidized with her sweat. There are also clothes inspired by the Red Light district in Amsterdam, by world cultures (I'm craving that Eskimo coat), by famous films. Often the mannequins revolve, so one can see the clothes from all angles.
A final savvy move: the show plays up the effort and artistry that goes into creating these sorts of objects. On the wall panels next to each article of clothing is a small note stating how long it took to create. 50 to 70 hours seemed to be the norm.
Even if you think you have no interest in fashion: go. It may well be the most fun you'll ever have in an art museum.
(Note: The show is in Dallas through February 10 and then moves to the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco.)