Bottling up Kylie's X factor and turning it into a blockbuster exhibition
A cultural demigod, LGBT icon, worldwide superstar – it can be none other than Kylie Minogue. Over five decades, she has shot from girl-next-door to pop princess earning herself an almost saintly status. Our brief was to bottle up her X factor and turn it into a blockbuster exhibition at the V&A that charted her meteoric rise to fame. This was no mean feat.
We transformed the exhibition space into a glamourous stage setting. Lights shone down, mirrors twinkled and music filled the room as an army of Kylie-sized mannequins rose up on stage. Star objects included the iconic gold hotpants that single-handedly relaunched her career, the tiny blue corset that grabbed headlines in 2005, the barely-there playsuit she donned for one of her best-selling singles. Even for the most ambivalent of visitors, their presence does something. These are, after all, like material milestones in our shared popular culture, regardless of who wore them. Many pieces are works of art in their own right, crafted by the ‘old masters’ of high fashion, from Dolce & Gabanna to John Galliano.
The exhibition offered much more than a moment of Kylie worship. It took you backstage with a behind-the-scenes view into how a performer’s image is crafted. Kylie’s dressing room was moved from Wembley Arena and reconstructed in the middle of the V&A. It bears testimony to the months of creative brainstorms, gruelling rehearsals and hours of hair and makeup needed to create the cult of Kylie. From choreographers to fashion designers, it is a celebration of collective creativity.
Kylie: The Exhibition marked a turning point in the industry. It was the first time that the V&A had dedicated an exhibition to one performer and her wardrobe. The irony of featuring a sex icon in an old Victorian institution – tiny gold hotpants next door to High Renaissance art – was not lost on the public. It grabbed headlines and sparked debate about popular culture’s place in museums – what is art? who owns this narrative? The exhibition was ultimately a huge hit and has gone down in history as a ground-breaking, era-defining moment. Its success set the stage for future exhibitions and put the V&A at the vanguard of this type of popular exhibition.