At the MTV Video Music Awards on September 9, 1990, Madonna gave one of her most memorable performances. Just off her acclaimed and controversial Blond Ambition Tour, Madonna’s stardom was at an all-time high. The music video for her song “Vogue,” directed by David Fincher and choreographed by Vincent Paterson, was nominated for a total of nine MTV Video Music Awards. The black and white video stylistically harkened back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, featuring Art Deco visuals and set design. Yet this treatment stood in stark contrast to Madonna’s live TV performance of the song.
Featuring an opulent and aristocratic aesthetic straight out of 18th century France, Madonna performed in the likeness of Marie Antoinette, with her dancers portraying her court. Decked out in luxurious costumes, Madonna and her troupe borrowed heavily from Vogue, a stylized house dance popularized in the underground gay clubs of the 1980s, and primarily by Black and brown dancers. Among the most memorable props from the performance were the now-iconic fans, which sent a satisfying sound through the loudspeakers when whipped open, and provided a delightful visual display of sensuality and splendor.
Madonna and her two backup dancers used these three fans at the award show, as well as the following evening at the Commitment to Life benefit for the Los Angeles AIDS Project. As fashion objects, they commemorate both this historical performance and the sometimes contentious reference-bending (and blending) sartorial tactics that Madonna became known for. And, like Paterson’s shirt, they demonstrate how fashion so often becomes a site for the interplay between cultural ownership and representation, while also holding space for invention, resistance, and transformation.
Vincent Paterson is a director and choreographer whose seminal accomplishments span film, Broadway theater, opera, concerts and tours, music videos, television, and commercials.
Paterson famously created many works for Madonna and Michael Jackson, including Madonna's Blond Ambition Tour (on which the film, Truth or Dare is based) and her legendary “Vogue” performance for MTV, as well as the choreography for her videos for "Express Yourself" and "Vogue." For Michael Jackson, with whom he worked for almost two decades, he created the Bad Tour, as well as the videos for "Smooth Criminal" and "Blood On The Dance Floor," among multiple other music videos and live performances. Paterson has directed, choreographed, and lectured around the world, and his star-studded list of collaborators also includes Van Halen, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, Lee Ann Rimes, Diana Ross, Lionel Ritchie, David Lee Roth, Slash, Whitney Houston, to name a few.
His work is featured in the best-selling Smithsonian publication, Masters of Movement: Portraits of America's Greatest Choreographers and is the subject of an award-winning documentary titled The Man Behind The Throne. This fall, he will publish his first book with Rare Bird Books, Icons and Instincts: Dancing, Divas and Directing and Choreographing Entertainment's Biggest Stars.
Culture, in the broadest sense, was activated by every detail of the multisensory immersion that music television packaged and disseminated. Much more than just the sound, this experience also captured the formerly-niche creative subcultures of specific communities and locales through clothing, jewelry, hairstyles, dance moves, regional vernaculars, and more. Music television granted an access that was unprecedented.
If you’ve been following along here at Arkive, you’ll know that our inaugural acquisition was the ENIAC patent––the first patent for a computer––and our second was artist Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Seduction (1985)––an iconic work of art that questions the boundaries between technology and selfhood. Our fifth acquisition round builds on our third, the Moonman Prototype, to interrogate how technology shapes our experiences and perspectives, even in ways we might not immediately realize. While we consider one of the most transformative media innovations of the 21st century, this acquisition focused on a particularly influential architect of the genre—choreographer and director Vincent Paterson.
On August 29, 2022, Arkive launched an acquisition round titled "Dance Dance Revolution", engaging in dialogue, discussion, and conversation on on two objects from Paterson’s collection that capture and communicate the impact of the complex visual languages of music television at the turn of the century (1980-2000). Madonna's Vogue Fans were considered alongside Vincent Paterson's "Beat It" T-shirt in this music television round.
After a series of votes, the community selected Madonna's "Vogue" Fans as the fifth acquisition into the collection. Core team members then worked with community member Thomas Scriven from ANALOGr and Vincent Paterson to acquire the three fans. The fans will go on display globally via an Arkive traveling exhibition in late 2022. Following that, the work will enter into long term residency at a prominent public location, as selected by the Arkive membership.
We encourage you to further explore Vincent Paterson's life, work, and inspirations. Here are a few selections from our curators that will help guide you, including where to find his new book. As always, this is just the start. Apply to Arkive to continue the conversation with the community.