"The Art of Influence" was a collaboration between the Columbia Museum of Art and Nickelodeon Theater highlighting late fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen and how his inspiration from film shaped his work.
The Nickelodeon Theater held showings of "Blade Runner" and "The Shining" on Jan. 10 and Jan. 17 respectively, and in tandem, the Columbia Museum of Art has on display garments from his fall 1998 and 1999 collections, alongside photographs from within his workshop, in the limited-time exhibit called Lee Alexander McQueen & Ann Ray: Rendez-Vous. The exhibit opened Oct. 7, 2023, and closes Jan. 21.
The clear connection between film and McQueen's work was the theater's motivation for getting involved, according to Kassidy Wright, the marketing coordinator for the Nickelodeon Theater.
“All of his inspirations and the fact they came from films was what we really thought was interesting. And (we wanted) to provide a really in-depth look into all the exhibits and all the looks,” Wright said.
McQueen was inspired by many different films throughout his career, according to the organizers, such as “The Birds,” “Taxi Driver” and “Psycho.” "Blade Runner,” the 1982 science fiction film depicting a futuristic Los Angeles, was particularly influential for McQueen's fall 1998 collection, According to Wilson Bame, the manager of engagement in the education and engagement team at the Columbia Museum of Art.
“Dystopian technology (and) heavy future is something that really stood out to McQueen,” Bame said. “And not just the bumper bangs and the broad shoulders and women in suit jackets, but also some very heavy technology-driven pieces.”
The museum exhibit features a model adorned with lights that resembled a robot, huge fur coats inspired by Sean Young’s character and designs that resembled a computer's motherboard, as described by Bame.
"Blade Runner" is widely considered an incredibly visually striking film, and its sharp social commentary appealed to McQueen, whose work covered a wide range of styles over his career but was always deeply personal, according to Bame.
“McQueen considered all of his collections to be autobiographical,” Jackie Adams, the director of Art and Learning at the Columbia Museum of Art said, who was in-house curator and came up with the idea for the project. “He was certainly saying something about his life and the way he grew up, and how he lived his life.”
“The Shining” fascinated McQueen to such an extent that the designer titled his 1999 fall/winter collection "The Overlook" — a homage to the deadly hotel in which Stanley Kubrick's classic horror film takes place, according to Adams.
The film's setting and costumes influenced the collection, which was full of winter coats and included snowing and ice skaters on the runway, according to Adams. But when exploring what drew McQueen to the film, Adams said it was his deep personal connections to the ideas and themes, such as parental relationships, that stood out to her.
Shelley Duvall's character Wendy Torrance becomes the hero of the film and defies the patriarchal system by rescuing her son from her husband, a thematic element that McQueen identified with, according to Adams.
“McQueen himself had a very close connection with his mother and a little bit of a contentious relationship with his father,” Adams said. “There’s some identity-seeking through all of this, and he expresses that through fashion and clothing.”
The public's excitement for the screenings was evident, according to Wright. The “Blade Runner” screening sold out, and prior to the second screening, she said she expected a similar turnout for "The Shining." Columbia residents were eager to see the classic films back on the big screen decades after their original releases, Wright said.
In contrast to the films, the 50 items designed by McQueen on display as part of the exhibition are fragile, and can't be shown on demand.
“The great thing about film is you’re going to still continually get access to it, and you’ll get to see it 50 years later,” Adams said. “McQueen’s garments, those things have to be very carefully conserved.”
That’s where Ann Ray, a fashion photographer and one of McQueen’s closest friends, provides an invaluable resource in the photos she took of his runway shows and his private workshop, over 60 of which are displayed in the exhibition, that documented McQueen's life and career. Ray was the sole photographer McQueen allowed to take photos of the backstage culture at his shows and in the workshop.
“She was the only photographer allowed to take photographs behind the scenes,” Bame said. “The way she looked at it was really from an artistic lens, and so each photograph you see in the exhibition is really a work of art on its own.”
Ray did her first few photos of McQueen's shows for free and developed a lasting friendship with him. From the early days of his career to the end, he trusted Ray to document his work and legacy through those pictures, According to Bame.
“The life of a photograph. It can live forever,” Bame said.
Creative works such as film and clothing have a lasting impact on our culture and society, according to the exhibit organizers.
“This movie ("The Shining") is almost 50 years old, has held (and) can still hold people’s attention like that,” Adams said.
The artists behind the creative works that impact us, whether they're filmmakers or fashion designers, also have lasting legacies themselves because of their contributions, according to Adams.
“I think original ideas tend to have a lasting impact on our culture,” Bame said. “With McQueen’s fashion and designs, he was really a true original.”
Though the screenings have already taken place, Wright said the Nickelodeon theater hopes to work with the Columbia Museum of Art again, and the theater regularly holds similar events. More information can be found on the theater's website.
More information on the exhibition, along with the Columbia Museum of Art's Binder Podcast on which the staff did an interview with Ray, can be found on the museum's website.