The hotly anticipated Amy Winehouse retrospective is now on show at the Design Museum. Taking visitors on a journey through the singer’s monumental career, influences and legacy, Amy: Beyond the Stage promises a cathartic experience that fans won’t soon forget.
Review: Amy: Beyond the Stage at the Design Museum
An icon of the early twenty-first century, Amy Winehouse had a resonating voice that captured the hearts of fans, collaborators and the wider music industry alike. Known for infusing the likes of jazz, soul, hip hop and RnB to create her own eclectic sound, Amy became an unmatched soloist whose legacy continues to thrive more than ten years after her death.
The Design Museum’s latest retrospective exhibition, Amy: Beyond the Stage, pays tribute to the singer by celebrating her creative impact and authenticity across her two main albums Frank and Back to Black. Created in collaboration with Amy’s family and close friend and stylist, Naomi Parry, the exhibition aims to bring visitors closer to the constructed style of Amy Winehouse – more specifically, how she crafted her signature sound and look.
Having opened in November 2021, the exhibition marks the ten-year anniversary of Amy’s death – but rather than make her story into a tragedy, those working on the exhibition wanted to celebrate the vibrancy of her life. Naomi Parry, who worked as a Special Advisor on Amy: Beyond the Stage, emphasised how: ‘Often the portrayal of Amy is focused on the negative aspects of her life, [but] this exhibition will take visitors through all that she achieved and highlight the incredible mark that she left on the lives of her fans all around the world.’
The first section of the exhibition introduces visitors to a young Amy growing up in North London, with notebooks from her teenage years and family photos scattered across the walls. Amy’s burgeoning interest in music and the early days of her career are also documented through the singer’s CD collection, her audition video and photoshoots with Elle Girl from 2004.
Musical influence forms a huge part of the exhibition, and it is used to tell the story of how Amy crafted her stage persona for Frank and Back to Black. Alongside the singer’s hand-written lyrics and annotations, the curators have included a sort of ‘hall of fame’ featuring many of the singers and bands that Amy looked up to. Think The Ronettes, Dinah Washington, Salt-N-Pepa, Lauryn Hill, Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra (after which Frank was named). These ‘greats’ in music are sat side-by-side with the artists Amy collaborated with, like Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson, who are shown discussing the singer’s legacy in short interview clips.
Above the main room sits a huge screen playing footage from some of Amy’s past performances, including her set at the 2008 Grammys (her five awards from the year prior are sat in a display case just underneath).
A large display is also dedicated to Amy’s visual style, with the original outfits she wore during performances taking pride of places on tiered platforms. Surrounded by visions of Amy in Moschino, Roberto Cavalli and John Galliano, visitors can map out the singer’s style evolution and the emergence of her signature bold eyeliner and beehive hairdo. These outfits are positioned in relation to the later work of designers, such as Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel, who paid homage to Amy on the runway.
Amy: Beyond the Stage also makes sure to include multiple immersive experiences throughout the exhibition, created by set designer Chiara Stephenson, with digital design by Luke Halls Studio and artwork by Studio Moross. Step inside a recording studio inspired by Metropolis, the space where Back to Black was recorded, and experience a huge finale to round off the exhibition.
Titled Finale: Tears Dry On Their Own, the final segment creates an immersive audio-visual experience that ‘reinterprets Amy’s energy as a live performer through the lens of contemporary design’. Drawing inspiration from jazz bars – keep an eye out for the swag curtains and tasselled lampshades – the dark, mirrored room is transformed with a performance of Tears Dry On Their Own. Rich colours dance across a fabric screen, with vivid illustrations and swirling colours coming together to animate Amy as she performs with her band. Texture and movement build in intensity to match the pacing of the song, matched by a euphoric chorus that leaves audiences feeling on a high.
The Final Word
With a focus on the highs Amy achieved in her lifetime, Amy: Beyond the Stage surges with the life and vivacity that characterised so much of the singer’s work. Whether you’re a long-time fan or just dipping a toe in, this is an exhibition that will do anything but disappoint.
Amy: Beyond the Stage will be showing at the Design Museum until 10 April 2022. Tickets are £14.50. For more information, please visit designmuseum.org
Featured image: An installation called ‘Finale’, designed by set designer Chiara Stephenson with animation by Studio Moross, offering visitors a performance of Amy’s song ‘Tears Dry On Their Own’. Photography by Ed Reeve