EXHIBIT REVIEW -- Diana, A Celebration
The exhibit is on view through August 17, 2014 at the Cincinnati Museum Center.
This is reportedly the LAST STOP on its final tour!
I was thrilled when I recently had the opportunity to see "Diana – A Celebration" for myself at the Dayton Art Institute in Dayton, Ohio.
This is an extremely popular show. If you have the opportunity to see it, be sure to go early! We arrived 10 minutes after the museum opened on a Monday morning, and already there was a line!
After purchasing our tickets in the main lobby, we snaked through many of the permanent art galleries of the museum, following sign after sign directing us to the Diana exhibition. I admit to feeling a bit disoriented with all the twists and turns of the circuitous route. But from the museum’s perspective, it did force people who may have never been there to see some of the permanent collections. I didn’t stop to look at anything then, because my mind was focused on seeing the Diana exhibit. But we did come back to look at the other galleries afterwards.
We declined the audio tour, preferring instead to read the labels and view the artifacts on our own.
The first gallery was small, and contained only a single crown in the center. I was immediately struck by how dark the space was, which created a brilliant contrast for the spotlit diamond tiara. It was extraordinarily beautiful, and each stone shimmered as we circled the case.
Next we headed into a larger gallery, displaying more of the family jewels and portraits of Diana’s female ancestors. I was amazed by how much Diana looked like her grandmother. The two could have passed for sisters in another time and place.
With the family context firm in our minds, we entered a gallery exploring Diana’s early life. Various artifacts from her childhood were on display, including some of her toys and ballet slippers. A series of home movies shot by her father really brought her to life. Some of the objects in the films were present in the gallery. Although the movies were projected digitally via a projector mounted on the ceiling, we appreciated the “vintage” sound of an 8mm film projector that was added for effect.
As we passed through a small corridor describing Diana’s engagement to Prince Charles, I noted a small mention that he had taken her to dinner at the Parker-Bowles’ residence during that time period. That was the only mention of the name that would cause her so much pain, and ultimately end her marriage.
This small space led to the highlight of the entire exhibit – HER WEDDING DRESS.
A special case was built for the exquisite gown, to house its 25 foot train. The label explained that the designers worked with Diana to create a modern dress (1980s style!) that was interwoven with fairy tale princess elements. Highlights of the wedding ceremony played on a screen nearby.
Her wedding shoes, which had barely been seen that day under the huge skirts of the dress, were also on display, along with one of the young bridesmaid’s dresses. Although Diana was quite tall, she was always very slender. The dress was a bit much for someone of her size, but spoke to the grandeur expected of a royal wedding.
Immediately after the wedding dress gallery, we were met with large blown-up newspaper front pages declaring the “Princess Was Dead.” No mention was made of her life as a royal, which at first struck me as odd. But the more I contemplated why they would virtually ignore her role in the royal family, the more it made sense. By all counts, living as the wife of Prince Charles was not a happy time in her life. Her brother put together this exhibition to honor her, and he chose to eliminate parts of her story that were unpleasant. Still, it was jarring to fast forward so many years between galleries. I would have preferred even a small section, at least highlighting her role as a mother, which she enjoyed immensely.
Hundreds of condolence books lined the shelves of the next gallery space. Some were open, allowing us to read the words of so many people who mourned her loss. It was astounding how many thousands of people sent letters and wrote in those books.
As we entered the next gallery, Elton John’s adaptation of “Candle in the Wind” accompanied a montage of images from her funeral. It was difficult to keep emotions in check as we gazed at the throngs of mourners who lined the streets to bid her farewell. Noticeably absent, however, was the footage of her sons and their father walking behind her horse-drawn hearse.
Lyrics scribbled in Elton John’s own hand were hung next to an image of her final resting place on an island at Althorpe, in a striking white mausoleum bearing one word – “DIANA.” On the opposite wall, her brother’s original typed eulogy, delivered on international television, was displayed. It was interesting to see the words he chose to strike from his speech. Instead of using her funeral as a platform to malign the press and royal family, as he obviously originally intended, he thought better of it and re-directed his words to honor the grace, beauty, and charm of his sister.
The next gallery highlighted the charities for which Diana worked tirelessly. A video montage showed her in action, comforting children with leprosy, orphaned AIDS babies, and innocent victims of land-mines. A small prayer book, inscribed by Mother Theresa, was on display, along with other artifacts and archival materials relating to her charity work.
The final gallery displayed 28 of Diana’s stunning evening gowns and suits, from well-known English designers and others from around the world. Many of the outfits were positioned in front of an image of Diana wearing them. Her style, class, and taste came through in each piece on display.
We had to walk through the special Diana exhibit gift shop before getting to the exit, which always makes me feel manipulated. English inspired trinkets with the Althorpe name were for sale, along with commemorative books and postcards of Diana. Once you left the gift shop, you were not allowed back in, which surely inspired more than one impulse purchase.
Overall, I was very moved and impressed with the exhibition. I thought the admission price of $18.50 per person was a bit high, and I suppose I expected the exhibit to be larger for that cost. I was surprised when we came to the end. But from another perspective, where else can you see such unique and wonderful treasures from Diana’s life? How do you assign a value to such a one-of-a-kind display?
This is the exhibition’s third and final stop in the United States before heading back to England. Previously it was in St. Petersburg, Florida and Houston, Texas. It is strange to me that the exhibit did not hit any of the well-known big cities – no stops in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or other cities one would expect to find such a blockbuster show.
Nevertheless, I was delighted to have had the opportunity to see it. If you find yourself anywhere near Dayton, Ohio before June 11, 2006, you should go. It was a once in a lifetime glimpse into Diana’s private life, which cannot be replicated in any book, magazine, or TV special. Nothing compares to seeing those objects first hand. It is something I will always remember…
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