I do so love the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It really is the world’s greatest museum of art and design there is so much to see and it caters for every taste. One of the things I like best about the V&A is that although it is a museum it actively champions contemporary objects and ideas, constantly expanding and enriching its collections not only with items of historical importance but also with items made today some of which will become the items of historical importance tomorrow and some of these can be seen in a couple of small rooms leading off from the Asia displays near the cafe and John Madjewski Garden.
However, seeing the newest additions to the collection was not the reason for my visit. I had arranged to spend the day with my friend Celia to visit the Ballgowns show in the fashion gallery and also a small and not well publicised exhibition which is part of the London 2012 Festival, showing the work of the Brazilian Outsider Artist – Arthur Bispo de Rosario.
Housed in just two rooms (17a and 18a, amazingly it is not publicised on any of the in-house maps and guides, even the website does not make mention of this fascinating and awe-inspiring show) are 80 objects created by Rosario who aimed to record and remake the world through artistic representations of everything that could be saved on the Day of Judgement.
Arthur Bispo do Rosario was born in Japaratuba in North-East Brazil, a region well-known for its folk arts and vivid religious culture, something clearly represented in his work. In 1938, he had a vision of angels, which resulted in a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Bispo spent the rest of his life in hospital at the Colonia Juliano Moreira.
While in the hospital Rosario spent his time creating objects including model ships, items of clothing and banners all made from discarded bedding and other hospital items. In 1982 a psychoanalyst named Hugo Denizart visited the hospital. He had been asked by the Brazilian Ministry of Health to make a documentary on the conditions endured by patients, but became so fascinated by Arthur Bispo do Rosário that instead he decided to concentrate on solely on Rosario, and the film “The Prisoner of Passage” (1982) can be seen in the exhibition. As a result of this film and the interest it created in Rosario’s work a museum was created to house his entire oeuvre, Museu Bispo do Rosário Arte Contemporânea. What, I wonder would have happened to it if the film had not been made? Would Rosario have been recognised for his work, or would it all have been thrown away after his death? What is clear however, is that the work is intriguing, giving an incredible insight into the mind and inner world of a troubled individual. The exhibition runs until the 28 October.
Bispo do Rosario, Fights 1938-1982. Photo © Rodrigo Lopes
courtesy of the V&A Museum
How to follow such a fascinating and stimulating (both visually and intellectually) exhibition is a tricky one. So after lingering in the sumptuous surroundings of the V&A cafe it was decided to visit the Ballgowns exhibition currently showing in the newly refurbished Fashion Gallery. On entering we were treated to some of the most fabulous frocks from the 1950’s to 1980’s worn by the likes of the Queen Mother and Princess Anne to Elizabeth Hurley and the Late Princess Diana.
These amazing examples of Couture at its absolute very best are displayed in traditional glass cases with really interesting cut out stencils of (mainly) Georgian furniture and accessories, what makes these even more interesting is that they are each given a label which states what they are and from when they date! One of the things I found most fascinating about the dresses from the 1950’s is how so many of them resembled idealised notions of shepherdesses from fairy tales while retaining the modern fashion styles of the day such as the over full circle skirt and nipped in bodices. Together with the dresses are several small displays of accessories such as gloves, shoes and beautiful handbags, including the amazing sequin encrusted Walkers Crisp bag by Anya Hindmarch, designed in 2000 as part of the ‘branded bag collection.
image credit Anya Hindmarch http://www.anyahindmarch.com
As if the array of fabulous frocks on display was not enough to feast the eye, the exhibition continues upstairs on a specially constructed mezzanine level with a viewing ‘window’ from the ironwork gallery upstairs. This mezzanine level features some of the very best and imaginative dresses from contemporary designers and many having been worn at recent high profile events such as the dress worn by Beyonce at President Obama’s Inauguration Ball.
Many of these frocks are pure flights of fancy, such as the Sarah Burton designed Ostrich Feather dress for Alexander McQueen and the floaty and fanciful Marchesa creation in dove grey tulle and silk. One of my personal favourites is the beautiful and colourful yellow dress from the Erdem Autumn/Winter 2008 collection, called ‘Rumina’ this is a dress to die for!
Above left: Alexander McQueen – 2011, ostrich feathers, worn by Daphne Guinness at the Met Gala in 2011 (image credit: awhitecarousel)
Erdem – Autumn/Winter 2008, ‘Rumina’ gown, silk, satin and beading
These days a ball gown can be made from just about anything and on display are some stunning creations including a dress by Craig Lawrence which looks like it has been made from KitKat foil wrappers, a stunning knitted metal dress with the oddest oversize cowl style polo neck and most fabulously of all a printed latex dress made by Atsuko Kudo, who also makes costume for Lady Gaga.
Above: In centre, printed latex dress by Atsuko Kudo, with dresses by Worth and Hardy Amies. Photograph: Carlos Jimenez/© V&A Images
The Ballgowns exhibition runs until January 2013 and costs £10 (£7 for concessions and free for Members). If you are into couture dresses, glamour or celebrity style then is a must see for you. As for me, the next one just has to be Hollywood Costume!