fashion

Andrew Bolton: How to curate a blockbuster exhibition

Updated 18th October 2017
Credit: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Andrew Bolton: How to curate a blockbuster exhibition
Written by By Harriet Verney, CNN
Andrew Bolton is the curator in charge of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. He was interviewed after a panel discussion at the Sarabande: The Lee Alexander McQueen Foundation in London, of which he has been a patron of since 2014.
Andrew Bolton is the curator behind some of the most successful shows at America's largest art museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The Pied Piper of his field, Bolton's curatorial skills have enticed hordes of visitors through the doors of the museum's Costume Institute to see blockbuster exhibitions including; "China: Through the Looking Glass" and "Manus x Machina: Fashion in the Age of Technology."
In 2011, Bolton curated "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty," an exceedingly popular exhibition of the late British maverick designer's work. The show was so popular that, according to a story in The New York Times, the museum stayed open until midnight for the first time in its history in an effort to accommodate crowds. More recently, he curated "Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between," which showcased the designs of one of the fashion industry's great visionaries and challengers. The exhibition was the first time The Met had dedicated a show to a living designer since its tribute to Yves Saint Laurent in 1983.
Andrew Bolton
Andrew Bolton Credit: Andrew Toth/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
Read on for 10 truths from Bolton as told to Harriet Verney.
"When Rei Kawakubo said to me, 'I don't want to do a retrospective,' I thought thank god because I just don't find it that interesting when you see a designers work from A-Z. It's better when you see one piece from 1976 next to one from 2006 so you see the continuity, and you don't really get that from a straight forward chronology."
"The main question I ask myself before starting on a show is, "are we saying something new?" For instance, what was really interesting about the 'Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty' show, was (Alexander's) idea of the sublime: The 19th century idea of the sublime. But that's just one possible interpretation of (his) work. That's what I try to do, come up a new interpretation of that designer's work."
Inside "Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between"
Inside "Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between" Credit: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art
"After 'Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty' people at the museum who never took fashion seriously began to see fashion as an art form. People ask if it was because Lee passed away that the show was so successful, and it wasn't. It was because he was the only designer working today who was able to imbue his clothes with this emotionalism that you could respond to. You'd go to the show and you'd have these visceral responses."
"People were moved by McQueen ... He was called the 'confessional poet;' he would use his shows as therapy sessions so it was all biographical. If you go through his work it was exactly what he was feeling at that moment in time. He used his work in that diaristic way, that cathartic way.
"I know it sounds disingenuous but it's never about ticket sales. What I do try to do is come up with an idea that has resonance with an audience. So the next show is a show that speaks to the zeitgeist, something that has a contemporary feel."
"If you get a crap review it's upsetting. For McQueen I got a crap review in The New York Times. It's upsetting but I don't judge a show on that, I judge a show on visitors."
Alexander McQueen's Autumn-Winter 2009 show
Alexander McQueen's Autumn-Winter 2009 show Credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
Numbers do matter. If people don't come to it then it's a failure because you haven't captured the imagination of your audience, you haven't inspired anybody ... You are never going to please everybody but if you can't engage your visitors and they don't like the show then that is a flop!
"'Punk: Chaos to Couture' was a bit of a flop. The numbers were pretty good but it's very hard to do a show about a subculture in style because people are so snobby about it, they want to own that, they don't want to be seen in a fashion context."
A garment in the "Manus X Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology" exhibition
A garment in the "Manus X Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology" exhibition Credit: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art
"A lot of my work is biographical in a way. With the Anglomania show in 2006 ('AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion') I was really homesick. I wanted to do a show on English fashion and it cured my homesickness."
"For our next show at The Met we will be working with Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin once again. I love collaborating, the collaborations are really important to me."