What Tim Burton and Alexander McQueen Taught Me about Running a Museum

The dress that made me an Alexander McQueen fan for life. There's no doubt he's an artist

When I was an intern at MoMA, the museum launched a mid-career retrospective of the filmmaker Tim Burton. It was met with skepticism. Burton’s iconic status as a mainstream blockbuster-maker, with a cult following, had critics and fine-arts-lovers questioning MoMA’s integrity. It was an exhibition that displayed process, the evolution of process, and a mental stream of consciousness. But are doodles by a director art? Is Burton a mega-museum worthy artist?

When I considered the exhibition at the time, I decided “Tim Burton” was brilliant. From a museum-marketing, public relations point of view, I still believe “Tim Burton” was brilliant.

After witnessing the line-ups and the crowds, and after mingling with the audiences, I saw the value in a marquee art venue like MoMA hosting a mass-appeal exhibition. New audiences entered the museum, memberships increased, and because the exhibition had timed entry tickets, museum-visitors had time to kill by viewing the other galleries. The meatier, more academic, more stunning show “Bauhaus” was on at the same time. I don’t doubt that the increase in the number of under-20-somethings strolling the gallery had a lot to do with Tim Burton.

2+ years later, people are still talking about it. 2 years later, the number one search term that drives people to my blog is “Tim Burton at MoMA.” It was an exhibition that had staying power in the public’s mind.

Then came “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art — an exhibition with the same mass-consumer appeal.

Burton and McQueen are household names in a way Frans Hal and Lyonnel Feininger will never be.

I began following McQueen’s career when he catapulted into the fashion headlines in 1990s. He revived avant-garde haute couture and breathed a much-needed breathe of the rebellious artist into a humdrum fashion world. So, of course, when the exhibit opened in May, I promised myself I’d go.

people were lined up to get into the musem for blocks! records must have been set

“Savage Beauty” closed yesterday, and allĀ  I saw of it was a line of waiting people stretching south along 5th Avenue and fading into Central Park. I can’t, therefore, comment on the show itself. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions on “Savage Beauty.”

Drawing on global culture as much as on his native Scotland, McQueen’s career echoes those of artists like Matisse and Picasso who took the history of their medium and infused the traditional with a sense of the exotic, the other-worldly. For anyone that has ever seen a McQueen show or seen his clothes in a Vogue spread, there is no doubt that McQueen is an artist. The Costume Institute is an integral part of the Met’s collection and exhibition schedule. Fashion as art and the art of fashion is, essentially, part of the museum’s DNA.

A retrospective at the Met on McQueen was not only natural, but inevitable.

always the showman, his work was as carnal and disquieting as it was beautiful

But what about the management of the exhibition? My understanding is that there were no timed tickets for “savage Beauty” — if you wanted to see it, you had to wait your turn. Standing in line for 2-5 hours — did that permit visitors an opportunity to tour the museum? I’d be interested to see gallery counts. Thousands lined-up, thousands saw McQueen. Did thousands see “Reconfiguring an African Icon: Odes to the Mask?”

Membership increased, but then the Met stopped granting early morning member-exclusive previews. Considering that the Met’s ticket price is technically voluntary, the only benefit to becoming a member is the privileged viewing. I bet there were some very angry new members. Were refunds requested? Were they granted?

On the one hand, it’s exciting to see a line thousands deep waiting to get into a museum of fine art. On the other, you can’t help but wonder, if that’s the only exhibit they get to see, will they be back?

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Don’t Touch the Money Bunny!: Artwork of the Week Makes a Comeback

"Jeff Koons is a big Blow Hard," Ray Beldner. Sewn US currency (after Jeff Koons's Rabbit, 1986)

If my gallerinas and I said it once, we said it 100 times a day — “Please don’t touch the money bunny!” There’s no denying that there’s something cuddly about Ray Beldner’s rabbit made out of sewn dollar bills. Maybe it’s the tilted head and the carrot that screams “pat the bunny!” And then you read the wall label and take note of the title, Jeff Koons is a Big Blow Hard, and suddenly it’s not so cuddly.

Commentary on the nature of the art market and the subsequent commoditization of art and artist, Jeff Koons is a Big Blow Hard attacks the blue-chip popular artist Jeff Koons while asking the question: what makes a work of art valuable — the artist, the medium, the subject, or the market?

The soft sculpture effectively renders the dollar bills useless as currency. The bills are no longer tradeable on the market they were designed for. They enter a new market with a new value — as art. Each bill is meaningless. Their value exists only stitched together as an entire work of art. Their value becomes what a collector will pay for them as a unit entitled Jeff Koons is a Big Blow Hard, by Ray Beldner.

Meanwhile the piece asks a number of other questions:

Is Jeff Koons a sell-out — sculpting lite subjects that people want to buy — or a veritable “Pop-Artist” whose work actually comments on the nature of the art collecting as its being collected?

And then again, what about Ray Beldner? Where does he fit in? Is he capitalizing on another artist’s reputation? Is his copy of a popular sculpture a work of art, a statement, or simply a pile of mutilated, worthless dollar-bills?

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