More Than 300 Photographs From Elton John’s Legendary Art Collection Are Going on View at the V&A Museum

The show will be the largest photography exhibition the museum has staged to date.

Sir Elton John and David Furnish pictured at home in their art gallery in Windsor, England. Photo: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images.

The story goes that while sitting beside Cindy Sherman at a New York fundraiser, Sir Elton John complained that her work never came up for auction. Sherman promptly sold him six artist prints from her breakthrough series “Untitled Film Stills.” Her motive? She was in need of a new house.

The anecdote is indicative of how fame, connections, and no little money, has made John a preeminent collector of photography. He lists it as his second passion, after music, and together with his husband David Furnish, the couple has purchased more than 7,000 photographs that present many of the great photographers, events, and celebrities of the 20th century.

A selection of more than 300 photographs from this sprawling collection is set to be shown at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum from May 18, 2024, to January 5, 2025. It will be the largest photography show the museum has staged to date.

Malcolm X photo

Malcolm X during his visit to enterprises owned by Black Muslims. Chicago, Illinois, USA, 1962, by Eve Arnold. Photo: courtesy Eve Arnold, Magnum Photos.

The exhibition, “Fragile Beauty,” spans the 1950s to the present and features the work of 140 photographers spread across eight thematic sections. It explores celebrity in images of Marilyn Monroe and Miles Davis, reportage in stills from the Civil Rights movement, AIDS activism in the 1980s, and the attacks of September 11 (for which John and Furnish hold the world’s largest collection), and the male body through photographs from the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe and Tyler Mitchell.

“’Fragile Beauty’ will be a truly epic journey across the recent history of photography,” the show’s curator Duncan Forbes said. “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.”

John has been collecting photography since getting sober in 1991. In effect, “Fragile Beauty” is the second half of a photographic tour that began in 2016 with “The Radical Eye” in which the Tate Modern staged 150 of John’s photographs from 1920 to 1950 including rare work from Man Ray, André Kertész, and Edward Steichen.

At the V&A, John and Furnish further a relationship that began with a loan of Horst P. Horst photographs in 2014. In 2019, a significant donation from the couple to the museum’s new photography center saw a gallery named in their honor.

“Working alongside the V&A again has been a truly memorable experience,” the pair said in a statement. “We look forward to sharing this exhibition with the public.”

Preview more images from the exhibition below.

Tyler Mitchell

Tyler Mitchell, Simply Fragile (2022). Photo: courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Chet Baker, New York City, 1956 by Herman Leonard. © Herman Leonard Photography, LLC

Herman Leonard, Chet Baker, New York City, 1956. Photo: Herman Leonard Photography, LLC.

Dakota Hair, 2004, by Ryan McGinley. © Ryan McGinley Studios

Ryan McGinley, Dakota Hair (2004). Photo: courtesy Ryan McGinley Studios.

Versace

Herb Ritts, Versace Dress (Back View), El Mirage (1990). Image: Herb Ritts Foundation, Courtesy of Fahey Klein Gallery, Los Angeles.

 

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