Canadian Art

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Barbara Solowan’s Top 3: The Art of Design

Various locations Jan to Dec 2011
"Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty" 2011 Installation view Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty" 2011 Installation view Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

"Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty" 2011 Installation view Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art

1. Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The highlight of my summer was the Alexander McQueen show at the Met in New York. Featuring the most iconic and radical designs of his career, and observant of the (often emotionally moving) lacework, embroidery and feather details of his oeuvre, this show went a long way to making a case for McQueen’s articulation that “what I do is an artistic expression which is channeled through me. Fashion is just the medium.” Though the crowds of fellow attendees were often overwhelming, I could often find a quiet corner from which to observe the works at a distance, and then come in closer to view their minutiae. Not that a purely solo viewing experience would have necessarily been better; overhearing comments like “Those are my favourite McQueen boots” or listening to the audioguide, with fashion models remembering McQueen’s extravagant, performance-art-like runway presentations, added depth to my experience of the work. By the final room of the show, I had a sense of what an amazing designer McQueen was, and of his broad spectrum of feeling, which oscillated “between life and death, happiness and sadness, good and evil.”


2. Pierre Huyghe at Frieze Art Fair, London

One of the deeper art experiences of my year came in the context of a commercial fair. For Frieze Projects, the series of commissions enacted annually at Frieze Art Fair, New York–based French artist Pierre Huyghe offered an aquarium in a darkened room. Titled Recollection, the work featured a large hermit crab which carried a rather unusual shell/home—a replica of Constantin Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse—on its back. Admittedly, the crab was intriguing in itself, its beady eyes alert and fascinating to watch, but from certain angles all you saw was this icon of art history slowly moving through the dusky water. Was it an aquatic performance? Or an ironically calculated pas de deux? However you define it, I found it magical.


3. Red Bull Art of Can at George Enescu Square, Bucharest

The practice of creating artworks from empty Red Bull cans started in 1999, when the energy-drinks company initiated an international series of promotional exhibitions/competitions on the topic. This October, the first-ever Romanian edition of the event took place, with 54 juried examples displayed in a stylish mobile gallery built out of two trucks at George Enescu Square in Bucharest. First place was won by Michael Turcanu for his interactive work Time Warp, which I watched a small child, Serban, demonstrate with delight. Seeing Serban smile as he (repeatedly and enthusiastically) spun the handle in Time Warp, transforming the circular patterns into abstract art, made the experience a standout for me.


Barbara Solowan is the art director of Canadian Art.

This article was first published online on December 22, 2011.

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