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Rearranging the furniture at ‘The House of Annie Lennox’

29 July 2011 | London Calling

‘The House of Annie Lennox’ opens in the V&A Theatre & Performance Galleries on September 15, 2011; running until February 26, 2012

They say that music is the most accessible art form of all, and they’re probably right. But is the proposition from a curator’s viewpoint quite so black and white, particularly when, in the case of V&A custodian Vicky Broackes, the task is to fashion a display celebrating the artistic temperament of one of modern music’s true trendsetters.
 
‘The House of Annie Lennox’ exhibition is to be housed in the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Galleries for five months from September 15. One of 145 artistic selections on offer, and contributing only a fraction of the museum’s 4.5 million objects, it aims nevertheless to explore the creativity, image and style of the former Eurythmics singer and renowned solo artist, whilst celebrating the museum’s unrelenting passion for art and design, no matter what the medium.
 
“In our Galleries we have the costumes of many great pop artists including Mick Jagger, Adam Ant and Brian Eno,” begins Vicky. “And in the past we have presented major exhibitions on modern icons such as Kylie Minogue.
 
“It’s worth remembering, the V&A was set up originally as the teaching collection of the government school of design, with a remit of inspiring artists and designers to create great works. We do of course already cover popular culture, fashion, photography and graphics in the collections, but it's exciting to bring these things together from one collection and display them in a way that we hope will provide inspiration for a new generation.”
 
So that’s the proposition, but what about the logistics? And where are the boundaries when dealing with an artist who, in performance, screams extraversion, yet in creative mindset has been meticulous and even, at times, reserved (a fact borne out by the release of just five studio albums in two decades).
 
“It can take anything from five months to a year for an exhibition to come together, and sometimes longer,” Vicky reveals. “We always stay in touch with performing artists across various fields, so we had the relationship in the first place. That made the display relatively easy to pull together.
 
“That said, this is the first time we have worked with an artist in this way to create something that is both a new installation and an exhibition of objects, but it has been a very exciting project (and something we would like to do more).”
 
As curator of the exhibition, Vicky began by choosing the objects from Annie’s archive in order to represent her collection. Throughout, the artist was involved, contributing ideas for the display and its design, not least in choreographing a new film to be screened at the exhibition.
 
Vicky continues: “Working with Annie was a pleasure. As an artist who is enthusiastic about communicating with the public, she not only has great vision but also supports what we strive to achieve at the V&A – a constant striving to inspire creativity. So within that, she has lent personal objects to us, recorded an interview and has thrown herself wholeheartedly into every aspect of the production.
 
“Annie wanted the display to be a creative enterprise, not a retrospective. As an artist, she is constantly looking forward and is not particularly interested in looking back, and the core themes of creativity and inspiration – across everything from songwriting to campaigning – are key.”
 
The centrepiece of the display is a house within a house, the place where Annie’s most personal objects are displayed – items including handwritten lyrics and diary entries. So what about the logistical challenge of collating and storing such items?
 
The V&A is constantly shipping objects all over the world. It’s a huge operation that is undertaken with the utmost care and incredible levels of organisation, as you would expect. We are only as good as what we display, so delivery is the most important aspect of what we do. Luckily, in Annie’s case, the majority of possessions needed only to come from the other side of London, so that was easy. The more difficult aspect comes in mounting costumes and objects, but is something we like to think we do as well as anywhere in the world. At the end of the day, the presentation of our objects in exhibitions is a source of great pride.”
 
And while the material art succeeds in itself in embracing music and performance through those costumes, plus awards and photography, there is video and music to complete the sensory experience. The aim and presentation is such that ‘The House of Annie Lennox’ is designed to be enjoyed by everyone, from the most ardent fan to someone unfamiliar with her work.
 
“Obviously, at the V&A, we have criteria and yardsticks, and this display works on so many levels. It stands by itself, whilst also linking thematically to our major autumn exhibition ‘Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990’ (to which Lennox is also lending a key costume), so we hope visitors will enjoy both.
 
And Annie’s assessment? She told us, “I'm thrilled and delighted at the prospect of presenting ‘The House of Annie Lennox’ at the V&A. Even as a building itself, the Museum is one of the most wonderful treasures in the UK, and that's even before you start to look at its contents.
 
“I particularly appreciate the V&A's visionary approach in embracing popular culture and new technology. My display will be an overview and insight into the main archive of my work over the last few decades. I'm truly honoured that it will be ‘Housed’ at the V&A!”

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