Queer Maximalism x Machine Dazzle

Machine Dazzle, 2019 Photo: Gregory Kramer

Queer Maximalism x Machine Dazzle
Sep 10, 2022–Feb 19, 2023
Museum of Arts and Design
Jerome and Simona Chazen Building
2 Columbus Circle,

The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) will present Queer Maximalism x Machine Dazzle, the first solo exhibition dedicated to the genre-defying artist Matthew Flower (US, b. 1972), better known as Machine Dazzle. A provocateur commanding an expanding repertoire of stagecraft, design, performance, and music, Machine Dazzle is a virtuoso practitioner of queer maximalism’s aesthetic language of gay liberation.

Machine Dazzle, 2019 Photo: Gregory Kramer
Machine Dazzle, 2019
Photo: Gregory Kramer

On view from September 10, 2022 through February 19, 2023, the exhibition brings together more than 80 of the artist’s creations for stage, spectacles, and street theater, alongside a variety of environments, ephemera, material samples, photography, and video. Together, they chronicle the metamorphosis of Flower, a closeted suburban kid from Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, into “Machine Dazzle,” the queer experimental theater genius.

Machine Dazzle at work on A 24 Decade History of Popular Music, The Curran Theater, San Francisco, CA, 2017
Machine Dazzle at work on A 24 Decade History of Popular Music, The Curran Theater, San Francisco, CA, 2017

On view are both Machine Dazzle’s famous collaborations with drag and performance luminaries such as the Dazzle Dancers and Mx Justin Vivian Bond, among others, as well as the artist’s recent emergence from behind the scenes to center stage of his own artistic life. Installed on two floors of the Museum, the multimedia exhibition culminates with the first public installation of the more than two dozen tour-de-force costumes created by the artist for himself and his long-time collaborator Taylor Mac to wear in the queer performance art concert production, Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music (2016), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

“Since its founding, the Museum of Arts and Design has been a home for artists who have reimagined and radically subverted traditional craft techniques in search of more authentic self-expression,” said exhibition curator Elissa Auther, Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs and William and Mildred Lasdon Chief Curator. “In his quest to queer design, Machine Dazzle demonstrates how costumes have world-making capacity, why unorthodox materials have become the preferred way for those outside of majority culture to describe themselves, and the ways in which excess can both transform and transfigure the queer body.”

A self-taught designer, Machine Dazzle’s costumes are a mesmerizing display of densely layered, fantastical found objects and materials that, when draped over the human form, suggest a wearable Wunderkammer of American kitsch, culture, and history.

Machine Dazzle, NYC Easter Parade, 2019 Photo: Dusty Rebel
Machine Dazzle, NYC Easter Parade, 2019
Photo: Dusty Rebel

Excessive in scale, color, surface, texture, and movement, the living sculptures constantly transform, adapt, and grow with the familiar embellishments of drag and burlesque, such as sequins, glitter, feathers, beads, rhinestones, and ribbons, combined with ping pong balls, hoop skirts, Slinkys, soup cans, holiday lights, pipe insulation, potato-chip bags, chess pieces, toy soldiers, and more to build and deepen the work’s narrative intent. The result is an explosive queer maximalism aesthetic that joyfully counters the prejudices of high culture regarding extravagance and the overly decorated and embraces these associations as queer for affirming hybridity over purity, rejecting cultural hierarchies, and valuing different kinds of bodies.

Queer Maximalism x Machine Dazzle will be accompanied by a 160-page catalog published by Rizzoli. The catalog brings together an expansive collection of essays and reminiscences from fellow performers, historians, and cultural critics that consider every aspect of Machine Dazzle’s rich body of work, along with images of his over-the-top stage creations, made for himself and others, stage environments, ephemera, and more.

During the exhibition, MAD will present a series of films curated by Machine Dazzle. The films, dating to the late seventies and early eighties, helped shape the artist’s aesthetic sensibility as a child. The series, which gets underway this fall, will include screenings of the Faye Dunaway classic The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) for Halloween and Xanadu (1980) starring Olivia Newton-John to mark the artist’s birthday. Attendees of the film screenings can expect costume contests, giveaways, photo shoots, and more.

©2022 The Museum of Arts and Design, Machine Dazzle