The star who never toured overseas in his lifetime is doing well in his first non-North American venue. Elvis at 21, the Smithsonian touring exhibition featuring fifty-six images of a very young, very handsome, and very dynamic Elvis Presley, has been well received, and the show is impeccably staged at the National Portrait Gallery of Australia. After touring over a dozen American museums, Elvis at 21 hopped a plane to Canberra, Australia, where the exhibition has made itself at home since December 6, 2013, and where it will remain until March 10, 2014.
“The King has settled in nicely at the NPG Australia, and legions of fans have come through the galleries to revisit Elvis through the lens of Alfred Wertheimer and the printing genius of American master printer David Adamson,” notes visiting exhibition co-curator Warren Perry. Perry, asked by the National Portrait Gallery to give a series of lectures during the run of Elvis at 21, is in Canberra from January 14 through January 30. He adds, “Though NPG Australia has been open but a few years, the staff brings to the table no small amount of skill and design expertise and the installation of Elvis at 21 truly holds the walls in this innovative institution. The exhibition really pops in the space here at NPG.”
The narrative of the Wertheimer photos with Elvis is shaped along the walls of three brightly lit, large galleries in which the primarily black and white palate receives the brighter exhibition didactic panels and monumental images. At the moment of the narrative when Elvis leaves New York for the return to Memphis, the designers chose to isolate several images in a black bay at the end of the galleries; the effect is quite dramatic.
The NPG Australia has also embraced the experience with a full schedule of programming and activities for adults and young people. A large breakout area across the interior museum plaza from the exhibition contains activities aimed at all audiences. A chess set with figures representing the Elvis experience—Elvis as king, Priscilla as queen, mini-Gracelands as rooks, blue suede shoes as pawns—draws parents and children to play while a table asking the visitor to describe his or her favorite Elvis experience beckons all to chronicle their memories of Elvis or memories of experiencing Elvis’ music, movies, or message. The museum is also hosting Elvis movie afternoons, quiz nights, Elvis related book groups, and original choreography and dance produced in artistic response to Elvis at 21.
--Warren Perry, co-curator, "Elvis at 21: Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer"