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The '90s Are *Totally* Back In At The McNay's New Exhibit

The McNay is set to open its first ever fashion exhibition, “Fashion Nirvana: Runway to Everyday.” According to museum director and CEO Richard Aste, it’s also the world’s first exhibit focused on fashion and video art from the 1990s.

“Fashion Nirvana” features more than 60 garments from iconic designers like Dior, Tom Ford, Jean Paul Gaultier, Carolina Herrera, Gianni Versace and Vera Wang.

Kate Carey, McNay’s head of education and a co-curator of this exhibit, said these designers and the era of fashion they represent remain deeply relevant today.   

“Maybe it's nostalgia,” Carey said. “Maybe it's just cyclical, but I see combat boots everywhere. I see some of these pattern-type shirts. I see people exploring grunge or a grunge aesthetic, and I attribute that to the ’90s. So it just seems like it's resurfacing.”

In the spirit of that nostalgia, the McNay made a 1998 Windows desktop-styled Tumblr moodboard with images and sounds from the exhibit.

Credit Screenshot of "Fashion Nirvana" moodboard

The exhibition also includes innovative video art from several videographers, including San Antonio-born, Los Angeles-based artist Jim Mendiola. 

“And [the ’90s] was also a period when video equipment became more accessible,” said Lauren Thompson, a co-curator of the exhibit. “So you see a lot of younger artists starting to experiment with video. We felt that it would just be a very beautiful union having fashion and video art come together in this space.”

The partitions that usually divide the 7,000-square-foot main gallery into subsections and smaller spaces for major exhibitions have been removed entirely for “Fashion Nirvana.” Once visitors enter the exhibit, they can see almost everything in the room.  

As they walk through the space, visitors are bathed in the sounds of the ’90s. The eclectic playlist includes Nirvana, Madonna, Selena, The Smashing Pumpkins and more. 

"That Dress," designed by Gianni Versace, was worn by Elizabeth Hurley at the premiere of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" in 1994.
Credit Dominic Anthony Walsh | Texas Public Radio
Dominic Anthony Walsh | Texas Public Radio
"That Dress," designed by Gianni Versace, was worn by Elizabeth Hurley at the premiere of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" in 1994.

Rene Barilleaux, the McNay’s head of curatorial affairs, explained that the museum has focused on engaging with visitors on many levels. 

“One of the elements of our installations that we are very thoughtful about is creating an entire experience,” Barilleaux said. “So, it's not just a passive experience with art on the wall, but it's a kind of an environmental experience. You have the art, but also you have a soundtrack.”

“Fashion Nirvana” also includes a number of paintings and sculptures placed in conversation with the garments, as well as a couple interactive features — a runway and photography set. 

Aste said the exhibit’s innovative nature is reflective of the museum’s founder Marion Koogler McNay — who was known for her pioneering spirit. 

“And we're always looking to be a first. We started as the first modern art museum in all of Texas, and we're founded on the vision of a woman who collected the way no one else in this part of the world was even thinking of collecting,” Aste said. “So we want to build on that legacy. We feel that fashion is art, and our job is just to remind our community that beauty in the form of art is all around you —  some times even on your body, in the form of fashion.”

The “Fashion Nirvana” exhibit is on display Thursday through May 17. The McNay has multiple events slated throughout that time. More information is available at McNayArt.org.

Dominic Anthony can be reached at Dominic@TPR.org and on Twitter at @_DominicAnthony.

Dominic Anthony Walsh can be reached at Dominic@TPR.org and on Twitter at @_DominicAnthony