The Guardian

A gut-thumping testament in pen and mascara to a talent lost far too young

Amy: Beyond the Stage Design Museum, London ★★★★☆

- Sylvia Patterson

Alined A4 notebook is pinned open on a board, heavily doodled with love hearts and the random thoughts of an 18-year-old girl, not so different to every other 18-year-old girl in history. “Just plain fuckin’ nice” is the title of a list of four retro-classic songs, including Bobby Darin’s I Wanna Be Around (1965), alongside the words “Chris Taylor loves Amy Winehouse” (with loves scored out), “Paul Watson loves Amy Winehouse” (with loves scored out), meticulous notes on how to fill in the form and send a cheque to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency in Swansea, a shopping list including “£200 – fridge, £40 – Shelley’s Shoes, £50 – Chanel No. 5?”, and five significan­tly more ominous words among the love hearts: “diet no dairy or carbs”.

It’s testament to the mystery and absurdity of fame how the scraps of ordinary life become archaeolog­ical treasures in death, but it’s these inner-world details that stay with you throughout Amy: Beyond the Stage, the Design Museum’s first exhibition dedicated to a single musical artist. More than a year in production and instigated by her dad, Mitch (who asked Amy’s stylist, Naomi Perry, to approach the museum), it’s a mesmerisin­g celebratio­n of a still painfully short life: early-years notebooks and photos gifted by Amy’s mum, Janis; TV screens showing early interviews and acoustic demo performanc­es (unleashing the Winehouse personalit­y and vocal talent); a classy reconstruc­tion of London’s Metropolis Studios; handwritte­n lyrics from Frank and Back to Black – unflinchin­gly honest and often hilarious – now under glass like exotic butterflie­s.

There’s also a palpable sadness: her famed frocks static on mannequins, many of which are on loan after being sold at auction this November in Los Angeles, amassing over $4m (£3m).

The most affecting artefacts, though, are elsewhere: the street signs of Camden Square, north London, which fans claimed as graffitied books of condolence from the day she died in July 2011, a used mascara from the Back to Black era.

The psychologi­cal turmoil Winehouse endured, through the perils of fame and addiction, is seen through a different lens today. One exhibit, In the limelight, ponders how the mainstream media of the mid-to-late 2000s, which gleefully pilloried her struggles, has now evolved in “growing awareness”. Would she be alive, now, had she received today’s level of support? Gallingly, she probably would.

The exhibition finale, an immersive experience showing performanc­e footage of Tears Dry on Their Own, from Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2007, the images distorted into a dreamscape, simultaneo­usly beautiful, euphoric and disturbing­ly ghostly. It’s a gut thumper of a conclusion.

From tomorrow until 10 February

Handwritte­n lyrics – honest and often hilarious – under glass like exotic butterflie­s

 ?? PHOTOGRAPH: VICKIE FLORES/EPA ?? ▲ Some of the portraits charting her
style. Below, fans’ condolence­s on
the street sign where she lived
PHOTOGRAPH: VICKIE FLORES/EPA ▲ Some of the portraits charting her style. Below, fans’ condolence­s on the street sign where she lived
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 ?? PHOTOGRAPH: JAMES VEYSEY/REX/SHUTTERSTO­CK ?? ▼ The singer’s stage dresses, many on loan after being sold at auction, reinforce the sense of her absence
PHOTOGRAPH: JAMES VEYSEY/REX/SHUTTERSTO­CK ▼ The singer’s stage dresses, many on loan after being sold at auction, reinforce the sense of her absence

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