“Bailey is a boy of considerable intelligence who does not make the most of his brains,” wrote the headmaster of Clark’ College, J.T.C. Skellon in March 1953. “I feel quite certain that given a calling in which he is interested, he will give a good account of himself."
David Bailey certainly found that calling, as the National Portrait Gallery’s latest exhibit displays, with over 300 of the photographer’s images filling much of the gallery’s ground floor.
Following a launch party on Monday in which several of those whose portraits appear made a cameo, and yesterday’s press preview wherein the gallery’s director, Sandy Nairne recalled how the exhibition “started with a conversation I initiated with David Bailey five years ago,” today the Hugo Boss sponsored show finally opened to the masses.
Already three of the events set to accompany it are sold out, such has been the anticipation for what will no doubt be the biggest exhibition in London this side of 2014, or as Nairne remarked, “A great occasion from various points of view”.
Entrance is via a portrait of Kate Moss, shot in 2013 it has been the primary face of the campaign to date. What follows next depends on you; laid out thematically as opposed to chronologically, the full exhibit can be tackled from any direction.
Turning right, one is introduced to Black and White Icons. A huge array of famous faces photographed over the last 50 years, each reprinted especially for Bailey’s Stardust. The only factor that determines the different eras is the fashions worn by each sitter.
In a room adjacent to this are the portraits Bailey took from his travels to Papua New Guinea in 1983, alongside Aboriginals from 1974.
“These are the ultimate ones. There’s no one like these people,” Bailey writes of Anna Piaggi, Diana Vreeland, Tom Ford, Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, five of the subjects of Fashion Icons and Beauty, which sits across the hall.
On Moss and Jean Shrimpton, he says, “There’s a magic about them. The reason they’re so successful is that everyone adores them.”
In the middle of the room stands Dead Andy, a sculpture made by Bailey in 2008, previously exhibited at Pangolin London in 2010. An interpretation of the photographer’s late friend Andy Warhol, Dead Andy is one of a few sculptures to feature, offering a complete contrast to the photography that obscures the rest of the space.
Rooms dedicated to The Rolling Stones (featuring a stunning image of an underwear clad Marianne Faithfull from 1999) and Bailey’s wife Catherine (a personal selection of untagged images, displayed as if within the realms of a home) follow. As do more images from Bailey’s travels. A large portrait of Nelson Mandela from 1997 is one of the few images given a whole wall.
In the final room a huge space hosts six different series’. Amongst Andy and Dali – casual black and white images of Warhol and Salvador in Paris – is Box of Pin-Ups in its original form.
Several of the naked images that make up Democracy here also hang, as do three large skull images. “I think they are portraits,” Bailey suggests. “They’re just portraits without skin and flesh.”
In the middle of the room four large cabinets house trinkets; published books of Bailey’s work, a photo of him with his studio team from last year’s Vogue festival, a disposable camera with Catherine’s image on, a personal album from the 80s with snaps of Francis Bacon, Bailey’s documentation of his joining of The Tattoo Club of Japan from 1st January 1977, and the aforementioned report card.
Fully curated by the man himself – from the more private pieces to the public shots – it’s with ample personality that Bailey’s Stardust is executed, painting along the way a thorough portrait of the man and his career.
Until 1st June 2014.