“Blockbuster” is the term we always throw around about exhibitions at the Atlanta Civic Center. They’re big, flashy, heavily marketed. They draw huge crowds over a few months, and when they close, that’s it. They’ve had a good streak — King Tut, then “America I AM.”
The exhibition opening this weekend, “Diana: A Celebration,” has an impact, too, but it’s softer around the edges.
Organizers say they put Diana’s life in context by showcasing objects and home movies from her childhood, clothes she wore as an adult and images of her charity work. Their word are precise: these are artifacts that put her public image in the context with her life before and after she was called princess. Here are photos from the Diana exhibition.
People who love Diana will love this exhibition, but it does not put her life, work and legacy into context of the rest of the world. It hardly mentions her divorce from Prince Charles; the language on the panels simply shifts to refer to her as a single woman. There’s little detail offered about the 1997 car accident, but extensive exhibits dedicated to her funeral, and the outpouring of sympathy after her death. A gallery that focuses on her charity work is helpful, but can’t compete with the three-dimensional exhibits that surround it.
Still, there are blockbuster moments, tops among them a well-placed turn into a gallery dominated by her wedding dress. It’s encased in glass, but visitors can see every detail of the gown, plus accessories like her shoes, a parasol and bridesmaid’s dress. One curator said this is only the second stop they’ve been able to extend the famous train its full 25 feet.
In a gallery of items from Diana’s childhood, women cooed “I had these!” over a ceramic Peter Rabbit, a collection of turtles and tiny copies of Maurice Sendak’s “Nutshell Library.” The toys, the diary, the candid family movies all do for adults what Disney Princesses do for little girls — reinforce the belief that any girl could be a princess, every girl is a princess.
That notion grows up in the clothing gallery, where dozens more gowns and suits worn by Diana and made famous in photos are on display. It’s an archive of 1990s high fashion, with a few poignant pieces, like the body armor she wore while doing charity work, and the black gown she wore on her 36th birthday to make her last public appearance.
It would be a somber end, if not for the final exhibit — rows of shelves of condolence books. The effect is less of a celebration, and more an appreciation.
See it: Royal watchers, fashionistas, 1990s pop culture buffs, princesses.
Skip it: Serious history buffs, those still recovering from 1990s fashion.
Want to go? “Diana: A Celebration” opens Jan. 23 and runs through June. 13. Open daily at 10 a.m. Closed Mondays. $12-$18.50. Atlanta Civic Center, 395 Piedmont Ave. N.E. 1-800-745-3000, www.dianaexhibition.com.