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Kylie The Exhibition

Annie Jackson previews Kylie in London before it arrives in Manchester on Saturday 30 June

Published on May 30th 2007.


Kylie The Exhibition

The first question that springs to mind when you encounter Kylie: The Exhibition is why on earth have they decided to put the clothes on dolls? Then the realization dawns- those slick obsidian figurines are modelled on the elfin curves of Miss Minogue herself. It’s a hackneyed observation, but to paraphrase Hemingway, the famous really are different from you and me:- they’re much, much smaller.

And while in times past Kylie might have been earning a crust scampering into places normal-sized people couldn’t reach- a bit of chimney sweeping perhaps- in our celebrity age she has become the perfect pop-star package. Pretty, perky and with no bad habits to speak of (except maybe a questionable taste in men) she has survived over 20 years in an industry that generally goes through starlets faster than a celebrity can check in and out of rehab. Kylie’s longevity alone makes her a museum piece.

Pretty, perky and with no bad habits to speak of (except a questionable taste in men) she has survived over 20 years in an industry that goes through starlets faster than a celebrity can check in and out of rehab.

But does it make her a good one? When the exhibition first opened at the V&A it sparked a debate. Only old, dusty things get into museums, right? Without that respectable patina the museum (where this exhibition started its UK tour) was under fire for being unashamedly populist, for mounting an exhibition that amounted to a really good version of one of those creepy shrines into which over enthusiastic fans transform their bedrooms.

It seems we don’t want to admit that Kylie is old- for it makes us so too. She may (or may not, lawyers take note) externally be cleverly botoxed and preserved in aspic for all we know, but it is certainly the case that our minds are. The young things who listened to her pop music when she started out are thirty- or forty-somethings now- in denial about their mortgages.

Kylie’s trick has been one of constant transformation, manipulating her career through her costumes. There is certainly a case for inspecting the phenomenon of celebrity through its material trappings. So the really interesting question is- does the woman maketh the clothes, or do the clothes maketh the woman?

Kylie — The Exhibition features over 45 costumes and various accoutrements from Minogue's career, recording her transformation from mousy-haired mechanic (as Charlene in Neighbours) to what the exhibition's organisers describe as "one of the most popular contemporary style icons".

The stuff on show here features a few princess moments - most notably a frou frou peach marabou diamante encrusted showgirl number by John Galliano that is, while being the very height of camp, also beautifully crafted.

But the majority of clothes on show are more in the sprit of Cinderella before the fairy-dust sponsored make over: limp rags that hang forlornly from their glossy black mannequins. They range from quality but bland (the white Stella battyriders and Gucci-esque lilac dress) to the cheap and disposable (a yellow fun fur coat from a video) to the breathtakingly tacky. All are soiled with wear and tear, sweat-stained and ripped from the rigours of performing.

Such is the magic of showbusiness - by some alchemical process these non-descript scraps were at one point transformed by the glare of the footlights to talked about, desired objects and cemented Kylie’s reputation as a fashion icon.

The notorious gold hotpants are a case in point. When they aren’t filled out by that divine derriere they look exactly what they are - a pair of overgrown lamé knickers worth 50p.

The highlight of the exhibition is a mock up of Kylie’s backstage dressing room. Specially commissioned trunks are overflowing with beaded tops, lacy dresses, feathers and sequins. A dresser creaks beneath the weight of stuffed toys, flowers, paint and powder. Appropriately enough it’s like peeking into the window of one of those eerily realistic dolls-houses.

And though sadly this exhibition doesn’t dig much deeper than the level of an afternoon’s low-level voyeurism, it’s an enjoyable rummage through the cast-offs of pop’s petitest princess. So worth seeing yes, even though it isn’t art and it’s in an art gallery. The exhibition is pop culture on display which is where it all starts and ends with Kylie in any case. A significant nothing or nothing significant, it’s up to you.

Kylie The Exhibition
30 June- 2 SeptemberManchester Art Gallery
(Mosley Street, City. 0161 235 8888,
www.manchestergalleries.org)
Tue-Sun 10am-5pm. Free

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AlisonMay 30th 2007.

Galleries should be doing more of these sorts of things. I've never been in the art gallery but I will go for this.

vanessaMay 30th 2007.

It’s a definite go for gays and gals who unashamedly weep over such things as the Oscars and Neighbours. I confess I shed a tear or two (what can I say? I was hormonal). The point raised regarding the poor quality of the earlier costumes is true but there is something rather endearing about those shabby little costumes created by “unknown” designers in the early humble days. It illustrates how far the little lady has risen and now how bankable she has now become in the eyes of designers such as Galliano, Westwood and Macdonald.

Craig DMay 30th 2007.

Let's turn the art galleries into cheesy discos. Who needs art in a gallery after all, just gets in the way of putting bums on seats.

Angry RabbitMay 30th 2007.

There's nothing wrong with a Kylie exhibition in itself- the writer is making the point that it's very revealing about the gap between appearance and reality of popular entertainment, which is surely interesting enough. It is at home at the V&A because that is not a Museum of Art, but by putting it in the Manchester Art Gallery it warps people's expectations of what it is going to be and what it stands for- maybe it would have been better in Urbis?

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