Björk at the MoMA: The Costumes Behind the Unique Persona

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Björk at the MoMA: The Costumes Behind the Unique Persona

This spring, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) invites visitors to their retrospective of the eclectic accomplishments of the musician Björk. Emerging in the 1980s as the lead singer for the rock band The Sugarcubes, Björk began her solo career in 1993, astounding fans with her innovative amalgamation of different musical genres. For the exhibition, curator Klaus Biesenbach has chosen to look back and honour the achievements of the award-winning Icelandic pop star’s 30-year career.

Björk at the MoMA: The Costumes Behind the Unique Persona

Björk, Homogenic album cover, 1997. Photography by Nick Knight, dress by Alexander McQueen. Image courtesy of Wellhart Ltd & One Little Indian.

Within the first week of its opening, the Björk exhibition provoked a plethora of negative critical response. Deemed “unambitious” and “embarrassing”, the critics scorned its failure to live up to the prolific creativity of the musician. For the dedicated Björk fan, it is clear to see how the MoMA’s exhibition was a disappointment. This feeble accumulation of her songs, poetry by Icelandic writer Sjòn, album artwork and memorabilia appeared somewhat inadequate to the singer’s achievements.

However, for the fashion enthusiast like myself, it was a chance to see some of Björk’s most memorable costumes from music videos, concerts and red-carpet events. These included spectacular outfits from designers such as Hussein Chalayan, Alexander McQueen, and Iris van Herpen, to name a few. Accessories by Walter van Beirendonck and Shaun Leane, as well as photography by Paul White and Nick Knight enlivened this retrospective of the musician’s sartorial history.

Björk at the MoMA: The Costumes Behind the Unique Persona

Still from Björk’s Black Lake music video. Commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and directed by Andrew Thomas Huang, 2015. Image courtesy of Wellhart Ltd and One Little Indian.

The exhibition opened with an immersive cinematic experience displaying Björk’s Black Lake music video. The outfits, designed by Iris van Herpen, provided an introduction to the singer’s eccentric style. The next section, titled Songlines, involved an audio tour guiding the visitor through a series of rooms, providing a poetic chronology for the development of Björk’s career. Each room was dedicated to a particular album, featuring notebooks, memorabilia and costumes related to it. The advanced audio tour technology transformed it to an interactive experience in which the visitor becomes an active participant in the stages of the musician’s development. Highlights include the robots from the All is Full of Love music video, a glass bead-encrusted dress by Alexander McQueen from the Who Is It music video, the Pagan Poetry gown by the same designer, and a Swarovski crystal mask by Val Garland. The finale piece was a beautiful blue sculptural Iris van Herpen dress, which she wore at the Biophilia concert in New York.

Björk at the MoMA: The Costumes Behind the Unique Persona

Installation view of Björk. Dress by Iris van Herpen. © 2015 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar

Overall, the exhibition was a flawed representation of the singer’s achievements. But personally, being more interested in Björk’s fashion than her music, this was a wonderful experience highlighting the creative eclecticism of her style. For anybody interested in avant-garde fashion, the exhibition is well worth a visit to see these captivating garments in the flesh.

Björk is open to the public between 8th March and 7th June 2015, at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York.

Björk at the MoMA: The Costumes Behind the Unique Persona


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Written by Katherine Beckwith

Katherine is a History of Art student with a keen interest in the history of fashion. Having a previous artistic education, Katherine also has a watchful eye for the emerging trends in modern fashion.

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