Help the performing arts recover

5 June, 2020

 

Australia has a rich performing arts culture but how do you capture this in a museum collection?

Performances do not last beyond their current season – they are ephemeral. Once the curtains have closed, the performers move on to the next show (hopefully) and the stage crew prepare the next venue. The costumes have probably been worn to death and the sets are looking tatty and tired.

But a museum or gallery collection lasts forever – when we acquire items for a museum collection, we are acquiring them in perpetuity.


Costumes stored in the Australian Performing Arts Collection

 

Costumes stored in the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne, 2017
Photo by Mark Gambino

 

How do we decide what to keep forever in the national collection?

Why is one costume more important or special than another? Why is one theatre programme worth collecting and keeping over another?

In museums we call this ‘significance’ – what makes one thing more or less significant than another thing?

There are four main criteria for significance that are recognised in the museum industry:

  • Historic
  • Aesthetic
  • Scientific
  • Social/cultural

The best way to understand these criteria is by applying them – I’ll use them to assess the significance of a Kylie Minogue costume. As you can imagine, Kylie has a lot of costumes and we cannot collect them all. We use these criteria to help us choose which costumes are more significant.


Costume designed by John Galliano, Kylie Showgirl: The Greatest Hits tour, 2005

 

Costume designed by John Galliano, Kylie Showgirl: The Greatest Hits tour, 2005
Gift of Kylie Minogue, 2006
Arts Centre Melbourne, Australian Performing Arts Collection. Photo by Jeremy Dillon

 

Historic

The blue costume shown above has historical significance because it was worn in the Kylie Showgirl: Greatest Hits tour of 2005-6 which Kylie took to the UK and Europe. This tour was her first stage appearance after recovering from breast cancer.

Aesthetic

It has aesthetic or artistic significance because it was designed by John Galliano, a famous British couturier who was formerly head designer at Givenchy and Christian Dior. Galliano designed 11 costumes for this tour. The headgear was made by Stephen Jones and the corset, which is embellished with Swarovski crystals, diamantés and sequins, was made by Mr Pearl.


Detail of costume designed by John Galliano, Kylie Showgirl: The Greatest Hits tour, 2005

 

Detail of costume designed by John Galliano, Kylie Showgirl: The Greatest Hits tour, 2005
Gift of Kylie Minogue, 2006
Arts Centre Melbourne, Australian Performing Arts Collection. Photo by Jeremy Dillon

 

Scientific

The costume has scientific significance or research potential because our curator has used it to research how the crystals can be attached to a corset on wire stems to create a 3D effect, and to understand how Kylie’s costumes are designed to facilitate her quick costume changes: the lacing at the back is cut by her assistants and re-threaded before it is re-worn.

Social/cultural

Finally, the costume has social/cultural or spiritual significance to Kylie:

“touring costumes become like close friends, as we both work so hard every night performing. When the tour finishes and I see all the wear and tear of the costumes – blood, sweat, tears and triumph – the evidence of a shared experience is tangible.” – Kylie Minogue, 2012

In a sense, the costumes are an extension of Kylie herself.

But are they socially, culturally or spiritually significant to us, the audience?

Dan Condon, music editor with radio station Double J, wrote about his experience of seeing one of Kylie’s shows in 2019 in a rain drenched, muddy outdoor venue:

“I was tired and emotionally beat-down. … I really did not want to go to see Kylie Minogue on Sunday night. But it turns out that I really needed to.

A burst of rainbow-coloured confetti rained from the skies at one point, prompting an immense, gleeful roar from the hard-partying revellers. Her costumes were all magnificent…. It was glorious. It was cathartic. It felt really, really important.

You might argue that this show was a form of escapism, and this time last week I might have agreed with you. But it ended up being far more profound than that.

Because Kylie gave us a space for joy. A space to realise that there is a great amount of love in this world, and that we have a great deal of love in our hearts. Thousands of people danced in the pouring rain, grinning wildly and unselfconsciously binging on this shiny, jubilant pop show.

And when I talk about Kylie, I’m not just talking about Kylie Ann Minogue… I’m talking about Kylie, her band, the dancers, crew, costume designers, creative directors, the people who set up the stages, the team who mow the lawns at the venue.

These people are in the business of creating joy. Of bringing positivity into the world. That is always a beautiful thing.

We really need it right now. All of us. More than ever.”

Our research shows that Kylie’s blue costume from her Kylie Showgirl: The Greatest Hits tour is highly significant, which is why you will find it in the Australian Performing Arts Collection.


Bodice of costume from Kylie Showgirl: The Greatest Hits tour packed for storage in the Australian Performing Arts Collection

 

Bodice of costume from Kylie Showgirl: The Greatest Hits tour packed for storage in the Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne, 2017
Photo by Mark Gambino

 

This costume, and other items in the collection from the Kylie Showgirl: The Greatest Hits tour, cannot recreate what it was like to be in the audience for Kylie’s Showgirl tour. A live performance is a full-body sensory experience created by the buzz of the foyer, the fizz of the champagne, the ambience of the venue, the excitement of getting dressed up and going out with friends, the energy of the performers, the nervous thrill of anticipation and the potent mix of lighting, sound, sets, costumes and script.

What the Australian Performing Arts Collection can do instead, is collect costumes, programmes, set designs and other memorabilia which evoke the magic of live performances, and the working materials that show the creative process of making music, designing costumes or writing scripts.

Discover more about the Australian Performing Arts Collection which has been collecting Australia’s performing arts heritage since the 1970s.


Alison Wishart
Head, Curatorial
Australian Performing Arts Collection

 

Australian Performing Arts Collection logo

 

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