'Elvis: Direct from Graceland' ROCKS Bendigo'
EIN review by Nigel Patterson - April 2022
The more I discovered about Elvis' life – the more I wanted to know.
It’s the little things that impact and make you think about his life and music – he was the perfect talent for the perfect moment in time. In 1956 he seemed to suddenly emerge as the ultimate embodiment of modern America’s desires and anxieties.
He intoxicated the nation’s youth and provoked vicious backlash from conservative personalities – in a time before celebrities had teams of personal stylists, Elvis Presley invented himself piece by piece.
.. (Lauren Ellis, Bendigo Art Gallery Curatorial Manager)
EIN’s Nigel Patterson visited Bendigo in April 2022 to check out the exhibition. Here is his review.
Bendigo is nestled in the countryside of Australia’s second most populous state, Victoria, 140 kilometres from Melbourne. It has a storied history. The traditional owners of the area are the Dja Dja Wurrung (Djaara) people. In the mid-19 th century the discovery of gold on Bendigo Creek transformed the area from a sheep station into one of colonial Australia's largest boomtowns, during what was called the Victorian Gold Rush . After the federation of Australia in 1901, Bendigo served as the interim seat of government of the new nation until Canberra became the permanent capital in 1927. It is a leisurely less than two-hour drive from Melbourne and a similar time by bus or train.
While considered to be a city, Bendigo’s CBD has the feel of a large country town.
That Bendigo managed to secure the Elvis: Direct from Graceland exhibition surprised many, as its population (100,000) and infrastructure is considerably less than Australia’s major capitals. Sydney and Melbourne, for instance, are sprawling metropolises with populations over 5 million and are home to large, world-renowned, art galleries.
Visiting the Exhibition
The exhibition runs from 19 March to 17 July 2022, with tickets available based on a timed entry basis (each half-hour from 10am to 3.30pm each day). Once inside patrons can stay as long as they want (the gallery closes at 5pm). I recommend you allow between one and two hours to properly enjoy what is on offer. With large crowds it can be a slow process waiting for others to read the item descriptions (some are detailed) and enjoy the impressive visual artefacts.
The Gallery offers Access Elvis tours for the hard of hearing/deaf (9 April and 6 May) and for those who are blind or have low vision (23 April and 20 May).
The adult ticket price is $30 and there are also concession ($25), children under 16 ($15), and family (2 adults, 2 children - $75), ticket options. Children under five are admitted for free.
Still photos are allowed but your flash must be turned off (the gallery lighting is strong in most, but not all areas) and you are not permitted to take any video footage.
Demand for tickets has been high with the “sold out today” sign a not uncommon occurrence.
On entering the exhibit visitors are greeted by a nicely recreated facade of the Memphis Recording Studio (Sun Records). In the next room the front of Elvis’ Graceland mansion is also on display.
The sections of the exhibition are arranged by theme, other areas showcasing:
- Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo
- Elvis in the Army
- Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding (with wedding video, Elvis’ suit and Priscilla’s bridal gown)
- Lisa Marie Presley (including her baby clothes)
- Elvis and the martial arts
- Elvis on TV (1950s)
- Comeback Special
- Elvis meets President Nixon
- Aloha from Hawaii
- Elvis and Christmas
Included in the more than 300 items on display are personal treasures and a diverse array of artefacts from Elvis’ performance and film career, including:
- Apparel from several of Elvis’ films (eg. his silver boxing trunks from Kid Galahad) and
- The repurposed ‘68 Special costume he wore when meeting President Nixon
- Various documents from throughout his career (eg a telegram from Elvis to Colonel Parker when he was in the Army)
- Elvis’ childhood crayon box from Tupelo
- Scholl library card
- Elvis’ gold telephone
- Bongo drums Priscilla gifted him on their first Christmas together in 1959
- The diamond encrusted cross necklace designed by Linda Thompson
Standout presentations and items are:
- A stunning display of a some of Elvis’ jumpsuits from 1969 to 1977
- Elvis’ ‘68 Comeback black leather outfit
- Elsa Cardenas’ outfit from Fun in Acapulco
- Elvis’ American Eagle jumpsuit and cape from his Aloha from Hawaii satellite concert
- Elvis’ red convertible MG from Blue Hawaii
- His 1976 red Bicentennial custom Harley Davidson
- Several videos are continually on loop in a number of areas with seats for those who want to sit and enjoy Elvis live on stage in the 50s, 1968 and 70s. The videos are of selected performances rather than full shows.
Each item on display is like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle. It offers insight to Elvis Presley the person, and together, all the pieces tell an amazing and colourful story of the life and career of the King of Rock and Roll.
Complementing the exhibition are a myriad of eclectic Elvis related events in or around Bendigo, including:
- Elvis on Screen (film nights - various dates)
- Burning Love – A live musical tribute to ‘The King’ (various dates)
- Elvis Inspired Drawing Workshops (various dates)
- Bendigo Pride Festival and Elvis (Fri 1 April)
- ‘That’s Alright Mama’ with Bendigo’s Women of Note Choir (Sun 8 May)
- Revolt into Style: How Elvis Redefined Modern Art (Sat 14 May)
- First Nations Adoration and Frustration with Elvis (Sat 4 June)
- Henry Wagons and James Young on the musical influence of Elvis (Thurs 23 June)
- Enjoy a ride on the Shake, Rattle & Roll tram (Sat evenings)
What to do after seeing the Exhibition
Besides the exhibition, there is plenty more fun to be had when you visit Bendigo. It was pleasing to see how many businesses around the Bendigo Art Gallery joined in celebrating Elvis and reinforcing the exhibition. There are also a number of specially designed Elvis themed drinks and burgers available from local businesses. For instance, for afternoon tea you can visit the Bluebird Patisserie and savour one of its delicious Blue Suede Shoe pastries, or at Ms Batterhams order a mouth- watering Blueberry Shoe cocktail to complement your appetizing canapes.
Many shop windows are full of Elvis related items and signs. A highlight was the facade for the Harvest Food & Wine Restaurant:
The Elvis: Direct from Graceland (flexi-cover with wings) exhibition book (cost: $35.00) is narratively detailed and visually splendid. It features messages from the Victorian Government and Graceland’s Angie Marchese, a Foreword by Jessica Bridgfoot from the Bendigo Art Gallery, the article Graceland (Henry Wagons), a substantive essay, part biography-part critique, Elvis: Inventing Himself (Lauren Ellis), and a timeline of Key Moments. The illustrations, both in b&w and colour, have been seen many times before (unless you are a non-fan), but are presented in excellent visual quality and are always a pleasure to see.
The book would have benefitted from a listing and photos of the 300+ items that comprise the exhibition, as an archival record and for visitors to relive their experience.
How could the Elvis: Direct from Graceland exhibition have been improved?
One of the great innovations at the revamped Graceland Plaza is the number of interactive exhibits for learning more about the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. They function so that any exhibition is a multi-dimensional and more satisfying experience for each visitor. Anyone who has seen the David Bowie or ABBA exhibitions will know what I mean. The absence of interactive elements as part of the Bendigo exhibition was noticeable. It may well be that a combination of, limited space and the extra cost for interactivity, conspired to preclude their inclusion.
One of the many highlights of the Graceland experience is the Hall/Wall of Gold - a stunning showcase of just some of the thousands of gold and platinum awards Elvis has received for his record sales around the world. The Elvis: Direct from Graceland exhibition included only a handful of these awards. As a potent symbol of Elvis’ success, it was a misstep in not having a section devoted to them.
The Exhibition shop could also have been improved. The items for sale are fine but limited in number and variety. They include:
- 'Elvis: Direct from Graceland' book
- 'Baby Elvis' book
- 'I Love Elvis' badge
- Elvis notebooks
- 'Elvis: Direct from Graceland' tote bag
- An impressive looking, Lowell Hays designed, TCB ring ($250.00)
There was scope to offer a range of other items that are very popular with fans - affordable (some say kitsch) jewellery, Elvis knick knacks, etc.
A major omission was Elvis’ music – while Elvis songs played in the background of the Art Gallery, there were no vinyl records, CDs or DVDs for visitors to buy! Surely it would have only taken a call to Sony Australia or JB Hi-Fi, Bendigo for copious supplies of Elvis CDs and DVDs to be provided (given the exhibition runs until mid-July, it’s not too late).
Overall Verdict: Not surprisingly, Elvis: Direct from Graceland has deservedly met with a very positive reaction from patrons.
The exhibition is designed to appeal to both fans and non-fans. Talking to a number of people who were not fans, but took in the exhibition out of interest, they all said they were awed by the items on display and left with an unexpected, greater appreciation of Elvis’ life and career. Long-time fans were also more than impressed with what the Exhibition had to offer.
However, EPE would do well to ensure other showings of the exhibition include Elvis’ record sales achievements and reflect contemporary standards by incorporating interactive elements.
Visit the Elvis: Direct from Graceland site
Comment on this review
Review by Nigel Patterson.
- Copyright Text & Images EIN April 2022
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
The Bendigo Times featured this delightful article about the Opening Night which Priscilla attended.
'Elvis Direct From Graceland' Opening Night
ELVIS Presley may have feared being forgotten after his death, but forty-five years on, fans new and old have flocked to the Bendigo Art Gallery to get a glimpse of all the glitz and glamour that remains of the rock n roll king.
At the opening of the Elvis: Direct from Graceland exhibition last week, Priscilla Presley reminisced on her life with her late ex-husband.
“Elvis didn’t get to tour a lot of the places he wanted to go, and Australia was one of them. I think he’d be excited for all of you to share his life and the things that he did, the clothes that he wore… and all the things that meant something to him,” she said.
“He was a very giving person, not materialistic, had beautiful things for people to come and enjoy [and] look at.”
Priscilla has been instrumental in establishing Elvis’ residence Graceland as the second most visited historic home in the US after the White House, welcoming some 20 million people in four decades.
“When I walked around the exhibition I got a little teary eyed actually because this is everything he wanted, to be able to share, to be able to be remembered and it’s a dream come true for me to be a part of that,” she said.
“This is very sentimental to me, it’s very difficult. Our old museum, as we call it, there’s so many things there that really touch me. Do I get emotional? Yeah, I do because he was a truly special human being. There is no one who can match Elvis Presley.”
The exhibition showcases some 300 items from the over 1.5 million-strong Graceland archives.
Many possessions like clothes, furniture and documents were kept in storage by Elvis’ father Vernon who, after living in poverty through the Great Depression, feared the fame and fortune amassed by his son might one day come to an end and wanted his family to be prepared.
Vice president of archives and exhibitions at EPE, Angie Marchese, said it was “absolutely amazing” to fulfill Aussie Elvis fans’ dreams to see the king touch down in the country after being approached by the Bendigo Art Gallery three years ago.
“First of all, I was like ‘Bendigo? Where’s Bendigo?’. So, I started doing some research and I was so impressed with the exhibits and the work that they’re doing here, from Marylin Monroe to Grace Kelly to the Edith Head exhibit, all of it is top notch. It seemed like the perfect partnership to bring Elvis to Australia,” she said.
While the exhibition features “wow-factor” pieces like Elvis’ 1960 MG convertible from his musical film Blue Hawaii, Ms Marchese said it also includes more intimate items not to be overlooked.
“My favourite item is actually Elvis’ wallet and that’s because it’s so personal. If you were able to go through it, you would see a picture of him and Lisa. I can just imagine someone asking him about his daughter and him going ‘oh, you wanna see a picture of her?’, or there’s a movie ticket stub in there.
“It personalises him and makes him one of us.”
Gallery director Jessica Bridgfoot said curators were determined to secure particular items for a showstopping event that would aid the region’s COVID-19 recovery, including the tuxedo and dress worn by Elvis and Priscilla for their wedding in 1967.
“To be able to open up an exhibition like this just as the world is opening up is really a remarkable feeling. We’ve already been rewarded for our efforts with the opening weekend being sold out [and] ticket sales are going really strong. We’re expecting it to be quite a significant amount of people [attending] and for it to be a big part of the recovery and economic stimulus for Bendigo.
“We know that shows like this can generate up to $16 million in spending so it’s really important for us to play our part in the recovery, and what a wonderful way to do it.”
Go here to The Bendigo Times for the complete article by Katie Martin.
|'Elvis: Direct from Graceland' gets 5-star Review: Australia's 'Elvis: Direct from Graceland' exhibition gets a 5-star review in Arts-Hub magazine.
This expansive showcase of the entertainer's evolution in style has an astounding amount of detail. Chronologically and thematically arranged, the Bendigo Art Gallery exhibition allows audiences to access the life of a private man in a pre-digital public arena, when celebrities’ private time could counterbalance the intrusions of their fame.
The music filling every room exemplifies distinct career stages. Memphis’s Sun Records, the studio of Elvis’s inaugural recording, is showcased first.
|Young Elvis’s Depression-era clothes have a hand-me-down quality which contrasts with the custom-designed suits and stage costumes of later years. Showbiz designer Bill Belew’s ‘riveting contemporary take’ for the ‘68 Comeback Special, signalling Elvis’ return featured clever incorporation of the singer’s ‘cultural roots — the working-class dreamer, the Southern preacher, the youthful rebel’.
... Elvis' exuberant Vegas costumes, over 15 jumpsuits, many with matching capes, allow all-round access. Corners of the capes are flicked over to display the shiny undersides of contrasting colour under the heavy fabric topsides, emulating perhaps what a Vegas audience would have seen as Elvis moved around the stage.
Film footage of opulent furnishings and scenic exteriors further draw the audience into Elvis’s private haven.
Activities for kids are masterfully interwoven, as
|are Elvis’s personal effects: school books, opulent jewellery from later years, guitars, vehicles and ornaments from Graceland such as his bedside gold telephone. Accompanying photographs show the performer in action with these items.
Go here to Arts-Hub for full review. - - . Go here for ticket info.
|'The legacy of Elvis Presley lives on in new Australian exhibition': The brand new ELVIS exhibition in Bendigo, Australia is getting lots of publicity.
Australian Vogue reported...
.. The legacy of music and style icon Elvis Presley lives on in a new exhibition- Well, it's one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready now go, cat, go… to Bendigo. The historic city in Victoria is attracting travellers thanks to the latest regional gold rush that is 'Elvis: Direct from Graceland', a new biographical exhibition that explores the private life and legacy of larger-than-life icon, Elvis Presley.
Already rating as the fastest-selling exhibition in the history of Bendigo Art Gallery, 'Elvis: Direct from Graceland' marks another coup.
Previous exhibitions include Marilyn Monroe, and Grace Kelly: Style Icon and if there’s a consistent curatorial line threading through the gallery’s crowd-pleasing exhibition program, it is the enigma of the icon – a theme they dissect through the fashion ephemera and personal effect of the rarefied few who transcend time.
|Arguably, no celebrity shares the same depth of cultural significance and devotional worship as Elvis. His legend and fashion legacy will soon explode on the big screen thanks to 'ELVIS', Baz Luhrmann’s viscerally rich biopic which is set to be released mid-year. It reveals the ripple effect across fashion and form and showcases Elvis’s enduring impact on the cult of celebrity and style.
But while Baz was negotiating the logistics of an oncoming pandemic, BAG’s curators were independently kite-flying the possibility of an exhibition premised on Elvis’s private side. Jessica Bridgfoot, the director of Bendigo Art Gallery, recalls the first Zoom call being made from her home to Graceland during the 2020 lockdown, and the evolution of an improbable proposition into the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of archived Elvis artifacts ever to be displayed in Australia.
| “This is a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition paying homage to one of the most influential figures of the 20th century,” she says. “This is not a travelling exhibition… it goes straight back to Graceland when over. It is absolutely a triumph".
40 years and 20 million visitors later, Graceland is the most visited historic home in the United States after The White House. The enduring legacy of Elvis is testament to the determination, staying power and sense of ‘right’ that sums up the now 76 year-old Priscilla Presley.
Priscilla noted, “Everything, everything was special about life at Graceland. That was our whole world – our horses, hanging out with the guys, the fireworks, it was very, very private. We would go to the movies late at night. Elvis was able to get the latest movies, before anyone else had seen them, We would leave home right after the Johnny Carson monologue and head out to the theatre. Sometimes it was three or four in the morning, back home at 7.30am.
I read a couple of books and one of them made fun of his Las Vegas suits, calling them Liberace suits… it really hit me, I got a bit angry, because this person didn’t know Elvis Presley and why he had those suits. Elvis wanted to give his audience something to take home. He started wearing regular suits, then he met Bill Belew who was an unbelievable designer. They started designing together. First it was simple suits and it went from there. Elvis would say, “I need something a little more, I want to give a show that audiences will remember”. And progressively, one after the other, they were a little bit more embellished, a little bit more flamboyant with semi-precious stones. He wanted the audience to have something to talk about. It was always about the audience…giving them a show, letting them go home with memories.
|I think my favourite exhibits are the books, because he would read at night. We might come home from a movie at 2 o’clock in the morning or later, and he would go right to the books and start reading. He would read to me and I had to go to school the next morning. I would be so tired. And he would say, “you’re not listening to me woman.” ( laughs). There were so many of them piled up on the floor. I made a special book case for him, that went under the bed. I was afraid that he would step on the books and trip… I put them all away and showed him and said you don’t have to worry now, you are not going to trip over them. What do you think happens? The books go right back on the floor. He didn’t care. He was an avid reader.”
'Elvis: Direct from Graceland' is a ticketed event from 19 March to 17 July, 2022 at Bendigo Art Gallery - -- Go here to see the full Vogue article.
|Priscilla Opens Australian Elvis Exhibition: The brand new 'Elvis: Direct from Graceland' exhibition at The Bendigo Art Gallery in Australia was opened today by Priscilla Presley.
The exhibition features around 300 authentic artifacts owned by Elvis Presley, including military uniforms, his 1976 Red Harley Davidson and an amazing array of his famous jumpsuits
Amid the hundreds of Elvis personal items in the new Elvis exhibition a handful stopped Priscilla her tracks on her pre-opening private tour, sparking deep memories and emotions.
A set of bongos. A wedding dress. A crisp white suit. And an old, well-thumbed copy of The Prophet, a book of prose poems by Kahlil Gibran.
The bongos were her first Christmas present to Elvis: it was 1959 and 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, the daughter of an air force captain, was falling in love with the 24-year-old singer, already a star, who had been drafted into the army and based in Germany.
She had scoured Wiesbaden for a present for the man who seemed to have everything he
| wanted and settled on the $45 bongos (her father paid for them). “Bongos! Just what I always wanted,” Elvis said when he opened the present.
The wedding dress, obviously. It was 1967 and she had to shop on the quiet: “We didn’t want the publicity, we didn’t want the fanfare. Finally I got one. I wanted it very simple, I didn’t want it to be flashy in any way.”
Then there was the White-suit: the one Elvis wore to sing If I Can Dream, the heartfelt finale to his ’68 Comeback Special, his first performance in almost a decade, after he tired of the Hollywood grind and moved to reignite his passion for live music.
Amazingly, it was the first time Priscilla had seen Elvis perform live. She saw him in a new light in that moment, and in the Las Vegas shows that followed.
“I became a fan. I could not believe what I was seeing and it was like, ‘Oh my god’. This is what I loved about him ... it just was a beautiful sight – how he performed, how he moved, how comfortable he felt. I was very, very proud of him. That was him. That was what he loved more than anything.”
And, in a little side room off the exhibition, a pile of books selected from Elvis’ bookshelf. Among them, Robert Kennedy’s profound analysis of the issues confronting 1960s America, To Seek a Newer World. And The Warren Report, the detailed official investigation into the assassination of JFK.
Elvis was a voracious reader: Priscilla would try to tidy his books under the bed into a suitcase, but more kept piling up on the bedroom floor where he tossed them.
One book from those late-night bedroom reading sessions
| together drew her eye in particular: The Prophet. It was a book he read so often he almost had it memorised: he was drawn to passages such as “the musician may sing to you of the rhythm which is in all space, but he cannot give you the ear which arrests the rhythm, nor the voice that echoes it”. In one copy he underlined that passage and made a note below it: “a singer can sing his songs but they must have an ear to receive the song”.
He bought a copy for her, too, and wrote notes for her in it.
Priscilla says it is a sentimental, “very difficult” experience to see Elvis’ life revealed in such an extensive exhibition.
“Do I get emotional, yeah, I do, Elvis was a truly very special person.”
His greatest fear that he confided in her was that he would not be remembered beyond his lifetime.
“I got a little teary-eyed actually. Because this is what I think he wanted. To be shared, to be remembered. It’s a dream come true.”
Priscilla also spoke to Australian ABC radio with Brian Nankervis to reminisce on life with The King life behind closed doors at Graceland and much, much more. (Go here to the ABC for the interview)
A similar exhibition of more than 300 of Elvis’ personal belongings featured at the London 02 centre in 2015 - EIN was also there in London to provide a detailed review...
|Elvis London O2 Exhibition EIN Review: Having visited Graceland several times the lure of being able to see more than 300 of Elvis’ personal belongings in a less tour-group-timed environment was an opportunity not to be missed.
The display is sorted into 10 different rooms focusing on Elvis’ fabulous career from his very early beginnings in Tupelo, to the start of Elvis Mania, his Army Years, Hollywood, the 68 Special, his later concert years and the lovely section dedicated purely to Graceland.
In each room relevant Elvis music helps create the right atmosphere along with various interviews, recording sessions and suchlike.
To be honest I was expecting something a little more tacky but, surprisingly, a lot of thought and attention has been put in to the display and what has been chosen to be exhibited.
Some of the items on display were a delight to linger over.
Go here for EIN's Piers Beagley's look at the London ELVIS O2 exhibition - now open until January 2016!
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