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Swarovski delve into their pop culture roots with ‘The Art of Performance’ Exhibition

Swarovski have put on one hell of a performance with their latest venture...

By Joseph Kocharian

All glittering, embellished roads in pop culture history lead to Swarovski. The brand have been a part of some of the most iconic embellished outfits in modern history, whether it be on the cinema screen or the biggest music stages around the world. It’s not just in the past either, with their crystals finding their way onto the most talked about looks at the Met Gala, on magazine covers with an stage outfits from everyone from Beyonce, Olivia Rodrigo, Madonna and Harry Styles. It stands to reason then, that the Austrian brand want to show off some of their crowning jewels with their ‘The Art of Performance’ collection that resides at their HQ nestled just outside Innsbruck. Created by Carla Rumler, Swarovski’s Cultural director, she brought on wardrobe and jewellery designer Michael Schmidt on board to help source the pieces. Having created outfits for all the greats: Beyonce, Cher, Madonna, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Ozzy Osbourne to Steve Tyler (to name but a few) it was clear that he was the perfect fit for this project.

“It was a great joy working with the wonderful Carla Rumler, Swarovski’s cultural director, curator and visionary of the Kristallwelten Museum.” Schmidt told us. “It was her idea 15 years ago to do an exhibition based on Swarovski’s contributions to the performing arts. When we met and she learned of my history of making clothing for entertainers she asked if I would be interested in curating such an exhibition. How could I say no?”

The Art of Performance Room (Image provided)

There is a lot of cultural treasure to be found at Swarovski Kristallwelten, in the picturesque Wattens, Austria. It’s the brand’s HQ, but also a tourist destination, with 18 rooms that house incredible art pieces, curated by Carla Rumler. Carla regaled us with tales of frantic calls and split-second decision making, filled with panicked phone calls to secure the incredible ‘Chandelier of Grief’ by Yayoi Kusama installation (retrospectively and an incredible decision) and showing us around wonderful, commissioned works such as Alexander McQueen’s ‘Silent Light Christmas tree’ with 300 crystals on it. Room after room is filled with a new wonder, some bedazzled to the hilt, others a more quiet, yet just as impactful art, such as James Turrell’s ‘Umbra’ and Lee Bul’s ‘Into Lattice Sun’. The beauty of the place is that different pieces of art resonate with different people. Schmidt told us about his favourite. “There are so many wonders around every corner at the Swarovski Crystal Museum, but I’m especially fond of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room, and also the work of James Turrell. When I travel I try to seek out his work wherever I go.” Schmidt told us.

Amongst the pieces from Andy Warhol’s, Salvador Dali and Keith Harin, and their trippy mirror dome, Swarovski have created an exhibition that mixes artistic creativity with mega-watt stars, their ‘Art of Performance,’ with plenty of art pieces worn by musical icons.

Schmidt’s illustrious career has meant he has had a wealth of avenues to explore for this collection. He is clear to point out he doesn’t do favourites (to be honest, how can you pick between these music giants?) “I’ve been blessed to work with some of the greatest performers of our time. Beyoncé, Madonna, Cher, Rihanna, Lady Gaga and so many others, they all hold special memories for me and we continue to create works of art together to this day. It would be impossible, and highly imprudent, for me to claim to have a favorite! That said, my times spent with Tina Turner, dreaming up fantastical ensembles, was a boyhood dream come true for me.”

Currently in the exhibition (which is constantly changing) Schmidt and Rumler have sourced plenty of massive moments. Lady Gaga’s crystallised western cowboy costume from her Joanne era is there, along with Elton John’s customised bedazzled Hunter Boots for his Glastonbury set.

There are bigger, architectural pieces on display too. Katy Perry’s Moschino Chandelier outfit for the Met Gala spins from the ceiling, whilst Nicole Kidman’s Satine outfit from Moulin Rouge hangs above you on a trapeze. A fluorescent, scultpural dress worn by Bjork is literally a work of futuristic art.

Intricate detailing is obviously part of the craftwork that goes into Swarovski creations, so being able to look up close at ‘The Heart of The Ocean’ necklace from the film Titanic, and a ludicrously detailed necklace that Madonna has worn is a sight to behold. It’s easy to lose track of time, peering at pieces like the replica of the Swarovski jacket worn by K-pop band’s MONSTA X member I.M (the group had 11 jackets hat were embellished by 500, 000 crystals in total.)

The exhibition is a sparkling sensory experience, full of painstakingly crafted pieces, like embellished leotards from record breaking Olympic athlete Simone Biles, pieces worn by Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich that fuse the modern cultural icons with old Hollywood glamour.

The Art of Performance is going not set in glittering stone either, with Schmidt and Rumler sourcing out other iconic Swarovski outfits, swapping them in and out of the exhibition as time goes by. His favourite ever piece they have displayed? Schmidt has a few: “I don’t know that I have a favourite, but I must say that having Michael Jackson’s glove was very special for me. Unfortunately after two years it’s no longer on display but that was a personal highlight.” He has his eyes set on a few iconic pieces by artists to displace in the future, including a music icon who loves to embellish her outfits-  “There are a number of pieces from various artists I would love to put on display but I suppose my dream would be to have a piece by the Rhinestone Queen herself, Dolly Parton. Believe me, I’m working on it.”

Swarovski Krisallwelten is located 20 minutes from Innsbruck, Austria, and is open between 9am-7pm.

The Chandelier of Grief by Yayoi Kusama (Image provided)
The Crystal Dome (Image provided)