Not so simple to be Simply Madonna
As the world’s largest private collection of film, video and tour costumes from the entire Madonna career, Simply Madonna, Materials of the Girl can hardly fail to impress. This is the first time that a monographic exhibit is devoted to the Queen Of Pop in such a vast scale, and visiting the show at East London’s Old Truman Brewery is indeed
visually overwhelming. Not only the costumes, but the various different pieces of memorabilia, the collectables, the t-shirts, the vinyls, the magazine covers and the OOAK dolls create together a unique experience and you will feel completely surrounded by 25 years of Madonna imagery.
The selections cover the entire career of the Queen of Pop and are not only aimed to die hard fans but can please the general public as well. If there is something “from the Girl” that actually is missing, that would not be a particular item or outfit, but rather a rendition of that sense of perfectionism that defined Madonna as the artist not everybody loves but the most certainly respect.
If you have some quality time to spend at the Old Truman Brewery you will be able to overcome the initial sense of amazement, and start noticing things that won’t convince you completely and
others that will make you think “this could have been done better”.
To be fair the exhibition should be considered a pioneering experience and there is certainly space for indulgency from always demanding fans, but what is really striking out is the fact that the work of memorabilia expert Ted Owen, who curated the show on behalf of Marquee Capital, is certainly professional and accurate, but not always passionate and inspired.
Fans may be demanding, but if they are, they probably learnt that from Madonna herself, and somehow it is Madonna’s art in the first place that requires a special attention, a creative approach in both displaying items and “interpreting” them, and a lot of respect. This is why we may a bit too fierce criticising certain choices, but at the same time we can’t refrain from pointing out a series of minor things that don’t really work, especially because only a tiny dose of extra attention would have been able to shift the entire thing to the higher level.
Tip one: please do not use standard, old fashioned mannequin to display Madonna’s costumes. High Street stores don’t do that anymore, and anyone with a strong sense of visual marketing would tell you that the Icon of Madonna is too strong and nothing can compare. So no matter how hard you try to match an outfit and a wig (not to mention no special make up or re-paint), the combined look simply doesn’t work and you’ll end up wondering why a Madonna costume is shown as if it was in the windows of a department store. Using a more abstract, contemporary kind of forms will help putting all the higlight on the costume, enormously.
Tip two: be consistent. If you decide to go for an evocational approach, please have a look at pictures, videos, or simply ask the fans. To display an “Open Your Heart” bustier on a mannequin seated on a wooded upholstered chair is the closest you go to blasphemy in Madonna’s world, and a Tonet chair can’t be that expensive after all. It may look as a detail, but it is not, and not being able to understand the difference doesn’t go in the right direction either.
Also, putting the inaugural gown from “Evita” under the spotlight is certainly a great pick, but using it to reproduce the balcony scene where Madonna was wearing a completely different outfit would make it look a bit bumb.
We could add a few more comments to this list (there are some amazing costumes that literally disappear in the lot, but that’s rather more a matter of choice so we would not complain on that), but it’s not really about being nasty or uber-picky. It is more a matter of love for the artist – and such love can easily be found on the precious contributions of Madonna expert James Harknett and OOAK dolls creators Magia 2000, who did not simply complement the exhibition by including some amazing pieces of memorabilia and jaw-dropping mini-scale reproductions of some of the most iconic live shows moments, but who really set the vibe and made the difference – and poored in the exhibit – more than literally – the passion and devotion for an artist we all love.
Do not get us wrong, this exhibition is a great experience and you will probably love it, but it could have been much better – with just a little more of Madonna passion.
“Simply Madonna – Materials of the Girl” runs from February 21 to March 22, every day from 9.30 AM to 6.30 PM at The Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, London. Please visit marqueecapital.com for more info.