This Frieze Week, Alexander McQueen’s London boutiques will showcase contemporary art curated by gallerist Sadie Coles, examining the history of the visionary London designer’s relationship to art and artists. Of course, it could be argued that the stores have been filled with art all along. Since established in 1992, McQueen’s fashion house has been home to clothes that transcend fashion as works of art, with collections and runway shows combining performance, sculpture, installation, and referencing art history, music, and film (many which were honored by the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute exhibition in 2011—with record breaking attendance). This week, as McQueen unites with Frieze London as the new associate sponsor, stop in McQueen men’s store for an installation by Don Brown, the women’s store to view a sculpture by Jim Lambie, and read on for our quick chat with Coles on her curatorial project and how the partnership honors the creativity, imagination, and curiosity the late designer shared with fine artists.
Artsy: Can you talk to us briefly about Alexander McQueen’s relationship and history with fine art? For example, his collaboration with Damien Hirst on the skull scarf.
Sadie Coles: McQueen was always engaged in art and close to artists. From the very beginning, he invited London artists and dealers to his early shows, becoming friends with many of them. We responded, in turn, to his readiness to looking beyond fashion for visual stimulus or actual collaboration, and were genuinely interested to see the extraordinary theatre of his shows and collections. He was informed and plugged in.
Artsy: Can you tell us about the curatorial project you are leading at the Alexander McQueen stores in London during Frieze Week London? Who are some of the participating artists and artworks that will be shown? How will the works be displayed?
SC: In the women’s store we will install a Don Brown work Yoko XXXIII—a bronze sculpture of the artist’s wife, Yoko, and one of the latest in a series of sculptural portraits he has been making of her for over a decade. In the men’s store, there will be a Jim Lambie sculpture, Knight Time—a block of crushed armor festooned with colored light bulbs and sitting on a mirrored plinth.
Artsy: Do the artists you chose for this project have a relationship to McQueen or his work?
SC: Not specifically, but Don Brown’s combination of classical perfection and personal reference chime with McQueen’s. Many of the fashion show presentations included isolated female figures (in boxes, as holograms, as dancers, as canvases to be painted) and this figurative sculpture emphasises the objectified female in fashion. That is why it is in the women’s store! Jim Lambie’s pop-style assemblage of mirrored glass, crushed metal and fake belts which is in the men’s store resonates with McQueen’s tendency to combine very dissimilar materials (including metal, chrome, mirror) in ingenious ways within the collections.
Artsy: McQueen was known to create elaborate storyboards for his designs, with references to art, music, and film. How does the brand’s sponsorship, and the curatorial projects you are leading at his stores, serve as an homage to the way the designer worked and filled his world with art?
SC: I think it is about imagination and curiosity—I always felt the label was very Alice in Wonderful—and McQueen have created specific architecture in their London stores where a single work is given space and can be viewed individually. Layered references and detailed research by artists leads to one thing: a well-conceived, well-made artwork. Like many other great fashion designers, McQueen has that in common with fine artists.
Artsy: How does displaying art within the context of a boutique help bridge the gap between the public and the art world?
SC: I don’t especially like a forced connection between art and fashion but where it is genuine, and closely reflects the aesthetic and sensibility of a designer, it can be an exciting context for specific works. Visitors to the store come across something they hadn’t expected to find, which isn’t just an illustration of the collection. Surprise! Let’s hope it provokes investigation by those both familiar or unfamiliar with contemporary art.
Artsy: What freedoms and limitations did you encounter in curating within a retail space, as opposed to your own gallery spaces?
SC: It is a case of finding the right work for the context and in this case the context is McQueen and the history of the designer’s relationship to art and artists.
Artsy: This sponsorship is the first of its kind. What about Frieze do you think makes this possible?
SC: McQueen’s shows and collections were and are visionary extravaganzas, combining performance, sculpture, installation, art history. Frieze has gained its international status as a leading art event for continually presenting the absolute best of emerging international art. This partnership celebrates and emphasises creativity and imagination.
Artsy: Your top three things to do/so during Frieze week London this year are:
SC: Without a doubt: the energy and originality of Sarah Lucas, Situation: Absolute Beach Man Rubble at the Whitechapel Gallery; the new Serpentine Sackler Gallery in Hyde Park; and for temporarily forgotten treasures, the ICA Off-Site exhibition at the Old Selfridges Hotel, A Journey Through London Subculture, 80s to now.
On view at London Savile Row Menswear Flagship, 9 Savile Row, London, W1S 3PF; and London UK Flagship, 405 Bond Street, London, W1S 4PD.
Don Brown, Yoko XXXIII, 2010, bronze, edition of 6 + 2AP. Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London.
Jim Lambie, Knight Time, 2010, metal chairs, helmet, coloured sheets, metal cast festoon lighting, concrete, aluminium plinth with steel belts. Copyright the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London.
Portrait by Juergen Teller