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Fragile Beauty at V&A sees Elton John's photographs displayed in major exhibition

Updated: Mar 30

Fragile Beauty: Photographs from the Sir Elton John and David Furnish Collection is a major photography exhibition which will open in May 2024 at the V&A in London.

Not only will it bring together an unrivalled selection of the world’s leading photographers to tell the story of the medium in the modern era, but it’ll be the V&A’s largest temporary exhibition of photography to date.

There’ll be 300 rare prints from a mammoth 140 photographers on show, and they are all on loan from the private collection of Sir Elton John and his husband David Furnish, who unsurprisingly are photography super-fans.

Their collection numbers 7,000 images — far more than could ever go into one exhibition — and has been amassed over 30 years. Such is their eye for photography that their collection is now regarded as one of the leading private photography collections in the world.

Many of the photos going on show in this London exhibition have never been on public display before.

Elton John sitting sipping a mug of tea with two fried eggs over his eyes
David LaChapelle, Elton John: Egg On His Face, New York, 1999 © David LaChapelle

What's on display in the Fragile Beauty exhibition?

The V&A's Fragile Beauty will cover the period from 1950 to the present day.

It will include works by icons of the medium including Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, William Eggleston, Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, Zanele Muholi, Ai Weiwei, Carrie Mae Weems and many, many more.

But it's not just the photographers who are icons — the images will depict huge names too. There'll be portraits of stars from stage and screen including photography of Aretha Franklin, Elizabeth Taylor, the Beatles, and Chet Baker.

And there’ll be iconic images from key moments in history too — from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, AIDS activism of the 1980s and the events of 11 September 2001.

Woman in an open top car with her hair in the wind and drinking a milkshake
Dakota Hair, 2004, by Ryan McGinley. © Ryan McGinley Studios (1)

Brand new acquisitions will be displayed, by Tyler Mitchell, Trevor Paglen and An-My Lê and seen alongside some of the very first acquisitions made by John, including fashion photographs by Horst P. Horst, Irving Penn and Herb Ritts.

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For many visitors, the highlight will be three striking images or Marilyn Monroe, which are presented together in public for the first time. These candid portraits — taken between 1957 and 1962 — capture Monroe at the height of her fame, in moments between scripted scenes or staged shoots.

One of the Monroe photos is by Richard Avedon and is a well-known early photograph of the actress in New York in 1957. The other two are Eve Arnold’s portrait of Monroe rehearsing her lines on the set of The Misfits in 1960, and Bert Stern’s The Last Sitting from 1962 which captures the star lost in thought two months before she died.

Other highlights will include Nan Goldin’s Thanksgiving series of 149 images — shown here in its entirety from floor-to-ceiling in the gallery — and which documents some of the most intimate and emotional moments in Goldin and her community’s lives.

There'll be three photographs by David LaChapelle — including a fun shot of Elton John from 1999 with two eggs over his eyes titled Egg On His Face — and Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Crying Men from 2004, where the artist asked some of Hollywood’s greatest actors such as Laurence Fishburne, Robin Williams and Daniel Craig to cry on camera in character.

Lawrence Fishburne with tears in his eyes looking directly at the camera
Sam Taylor-Johnson, Crying Men (Laurence Fishburne), 2002 © Sam Taylor-Johnson

The exhibition will all play out​ across eight thematic sections, such as fashion, reportage, celebrity, the male body, and American photography.

When announcing the exhibition, Elton and David praised the relationship they have built with the V&A since first loaning a selection of Horst photographs to the museum in 2014. They have also given a major donation in 2019 to the V&A’s Photography Centre which resulted in one of the galleries named after them both.

“Fragile Beauty takes our collaboration to really exciting new heights” the couple said. They added that it will showcase “some of the most beloved photographers and iconic images from within our collection.

“Working alongside the V&A again has been a truly memorable experience, and we look forward to sharing this exhibition with the public” they said.

Stylised photography depicting a woman wearing a backless black dress
Versace Dress (Back View), El Mirage 1990 © Herb Ritts Foundation, Courtesy of Fahey Klein Gallery, Los Angeles

Duncan Forbes, curator of Fragile Beauty, said: “We are delighted to be working with Sir Elton John and David Furnish to present highlights from their unparalleled collection: from the playful and surprising, to the contemplative and thoughtful.

“Whether through the elegance of fashion photography, the creativity of musicians and performers, the exploration of desire, or the passage of history as captured by photojournalism, photography reveals something important about the world.”

Elton John Fragile Beauty exhibition tickets

Photography lovers rejoice — tickets for this exciting show are on sale now. Adult tickets are £20, with students and under 26s getting in for £13. As ever, V&A members will be able to get in free.

If you like the sound of this show, then you'll likely also be keen to know more about the other big blockbuster exhibition coming to the V&A this year, which shines a spotlight on the 40-year career of model Naomi Campbell.

Fragile Beauty: Photographs from the Sir Elton John and David Furnish Collection — in partnership with Gucci — will open at the V&A in London on 18 May 2024. It'll run until 5 January 2025.

— Here's the full line up of Victoria and Albert Museum exhibitions in 2024


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