Montreal in two days and six exhibitions – Exhibits 2 & 3 – Musee des Beaux Arts

Paco Rabanne outfit for Jane Fonda in Barbarella

The Musee des Beaux Arts has created some phenomenal fashion exhibitions in the past. This is where the amazing Yves St. Laurent retrospective was launched in 2008, as well as where the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition was conceived and began its long world tour in 2011. This summer it has two exhibitions I wanted to see, although the first was not strictly a fashion exhibition.

Revolution was created in collaboration with the Victoria & Albert museum (modified and expanded for the Quebec audience.)┬áThe exhibition looks at consumerism, protests, drugs, concerts, civil rights, sex and everything else that was revolutionary about the late 1960s. Several galleries tell parts of the story in a categorical approach to the topic. The artifacts were spectacular – ranging from John Lennon’s suit from the Sgt. Pepper album cover to the chain mail outfit made by Paco Rabanne for Jane Fonda in Barbarella… really iconic pieces.

The dress on the left is by Thea Porter, but I couldn’t read anything more about it or the caftan next to it because the labels were either illegible or inaccessible due to the crowds in the Woodstock gallery standing in front of the cases

However, this exhibition had some organizational issues. Firstly, the audio sets were just music and added no further information to the show. The labelling was largely unreadable – dark text was often applied to vertical glass, becoming illegible in the dimly lit galleries. Some label information was missing or wrong: A Wiccan robe decorated with silver lurex was identified as dating from 1953 – unlikely as lurex was barely available in 1953, and besides the show was about the 60s, not the 50s. I could find no label to identify a peacock chair, and Greenpeace was not founded in California, but in Vancouver B.C. in 1971.

The show was also not well laid out for accessibility. In the second to last gallery, a massive wall projection of scenes from Woodstock was playing and the floor scattered with large pillows so that visitors could lie down to enjoy the projection. This left a narrow walkway at the back where other visitors stood to watch the film. The problem is they stood in front of the glass cases that had the REAL artifacts worn to Woodstock! Why anyone would waste their time watching clips they can see on Netflix while ignoring the actual garments worn by Roger Daltry, Jimi Hendrix, and Janice Joplin is beyond me!

A variety of Carnaby street fashions including Mick Jagger’s stuffed jumpsuit

Fortunately an exhibition of wedding attire by Jean Paul Gaultier downstairs more than made up for any complaints I had about the Revolution show.

Love is Love is a spectacular exhibition of wedding attire created by Jean Paul Gaultier that includes pieces he has designed over the last twenty-odd years. A massive tiered wedding cake in the middle of the gallery holds the bulk of the dresses and suits, shown in non-traditional pairings, while other unusual wedding outfits line the outer walls that have been covered with a scrim creating ghostly 3D images of chairs and picture frames – the presentation is fantastic.

In one corner is a mannequin on a swing with a massive train that had been the backdrop for the duration of a fashion show, until the wedding dress (traditionally the last image in a fashion show) appeared and the backdrop turned into her train. Gaultier’s clothes always surprise you – there is nothing typical about his work. Superb tailoring stands next to patchwork frou-frou and while some garments appear to be original ideas, others are unapologetically appropriated and reinvented.

The artifacts in Revolution, and the artifacts and presentation in Love is Love are worth seeing. Revolution concludes October 9, and Love is Love ends October 22.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.

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