DIVA at Victoria and Albert Museum ★★★★
Diva at Victoria and Albert Museum is a dazzling, inclusive celebration of divas that nevertheless needs a little more lighting and less Perspex.
DIVA is the latest blockbuster exhibition at the V&A, taking over the former space and tech of the Bowie exhibit which changed the face of exhibitions forever. This show is another rock and roll epic, with stellar projections of the divas that changed everything taking pride of place in the vaulted rotunda.
The exhibition proper starts in a pokey ground floor maze of MDF, highlighting historical and classic divas like the sultry Marlene Dietrich, the fabulous Victorian actress Sarah Bernhardt (the focus of a must see exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris) and important artefacts from pioneering women like Josephine Baker.
Head upstairs for the future showstoppers, including outfits worn by Debbie Harry, Edith Piaf, Eartha Kitt, Lizzo, Bjork, Elton John, Sade and so many more – it’s actually hard to work out a route through them all. Tip for the die hard fans: bring a polarising lens for your iPhone or camera, as there’s so much Perspex that reflections abound in your photos. Museums please take note: digital screens opposite glass/Perspex makes for a horrid picture and view.
Breaking out of the glass box, a stunning central display in the upstairs space, showcasing designer Bob Mackie, ups the ante: set your jaw to drop! The stunning pieces – like the fire angel wings he designed for legend Tina Turner – are era-defining, taking reference from historical divas such as Isadora Duncan and her surreal fairy dances.
It is refreshing to see a global and inclusive approach to diva-dom. These progressive moments of joy are really the highlights of the exhibition, including a gorgeous purple rhinestone outfit worn by Lil Nas X, a vulvatastic trouser suit worn by Janelle Monae, and a beautiful video by trans artist Sophie. References also include African diva queen Miriam Makeba and Hindu queens, but sadly the global approach doesn’t quite include drag as much as it could. RuPaul is sadly represented in just one picture.
On the downside, the exhibition feels a bit like a silent disco and the headphones don’t really add much except a level of discomfort (especially for big heads like this reviewer). It also discourages conversation and the appreciation of gasps which some of the fashion on display richly deserves. You also can’t take photos of some epic outfits by Rihanna, which is odd considering her Pope pearl outfit is one of the most photographed on earth.
If you love divas you’ll be in heaven, but a little more curation and party vibe in this Perspex maze would make it worthy of the divas this exhibition sets out to showcase.
I am Joint Editor at To Do List. I like free, cheap & offbeat London, especially: cabaret, art, theatre, pop-ups, eating out, quirky films, museums, day trips, social enterprise & much more.