OPINION - This London exhibition moved me more than I thought possible

 (Dave Benett/Getty Images for Vic)
(Dave Benett/Getty Images for Vic)

I’m not being funny but… how incredible are London’s museums and galleries? Last week I said I would share some of my favourite things to do in London that didn’t involve drinking. It might be obvious to think of a museum as a good place to go, but sometimes they offer a lot more than we expect.

The Natural History Museum and Science Museum are globally recognised and rightly so. The National Gallery exhibits some of the finest art in the world. My “local” and one of my favourites, Tate Britain, exhibits over 500 years of British art.

We have access to these kinds of places seven days a week with a lot of museums and galleries being freely available, with a small premium for special exhibitions.

What I want to talk about today is the special exhibitions within those spaces. Over the years we’ve been spoiled with access to some of the most incredible art. Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty at the V&A was one of the most impactful fashion exhibitions, I think, ever created. We were in awe of Yayoi Kusama’s retrospective at Tate Modern, originally in 2012, with her instantly recognisable “Infinity Room” installation. Last week I was allowed to experience another inspiring exhibition. I had the honour of being invited to DJ at the launch of Fragile Beauty: Photographs from the Sir Elton John and David Furnish Collection at the V&A.

I had to go back again the following morning to experience it once more and I found it so impactful

Let’s just say, I had to go back the following morning to experience it properly and I have to say I was astounded by how impactful I found it.

As you walk in you are warned of imagery of substance abuse, nudity, sexual intercourse and death. Standard practice for graphic imagery… it’s once you start the exploring the exhibition that you understand that the disclaimer is by no means gratuitous.

The exhibition looks at a number of themes, all important to the collectors: stars of stage and screen, reportage, American photography, abstract, fashion, the male form. The curators did a fantastic job of creating an, at times, emotional journey through these different facets and experiences of life.

As you enter you immediately grasp the ambition of the exhibition. Herb Ritts’s Versace Vogue picture El Mirage smacks you in the face in all its brilliance. Elsa Peretti as Helmut Newton’s Bunny is on the other wall. Every item with its own customised frames giving character to the space, unlike most other exhibitions. You turn a corner and enter the fascinating world of Hollywood. There are iconic images rarely seen before, from Sinatra to Miss Piggy, from Divine to Miles Davis’s hands.

Few organisations have had more impact in the progress with Aids prevention than Elton John Aids Foundation. Sir Elton and Furnish’s collection documents some of the repercussions of the epidemic poignantly, including Don Herron’s tub shots of Haring, Mapplethorpe and Hujar — all queer artists who died from the disease.

Nan Goldin’s four-walled Thanksgiving series is haunting. For anyone who knows my story, its depiction of substance abuse and the effects of the Aids epidemic is all too real for me. Sir Elton says “it’s one of the biggest, most important pieces of photographic work ever”.

The list of powerful photographs is endless and not one is misplaced. The Falling Man from 9/11 is possibly one of the most thought-provoking pictures ever taken. The Civil Rights Movement has been displayed with some powerful imagery. The celebration of the male physique — beautiful. The list goes on.

David Furnish told me “it was staggering for us to see it all together… So many of our passions, inspirations and values are on display, it is deeply personal”.

I wasn’t planning on dedicating a column to one single activity but even 700 words just isn’t enough to express the journey this exhibition will take you on. Fragile Beauty is on until January 5, 2025. See you next Wednesday.

Track of the Week: Listen To The Music — Sam Lowe, Edd.

Fat Tony is a DJ and bestselling author