What could arguably be the best exhibition in London at the moment has opened as Sotheby’s has devoted its entire building to one man – Freddie Mercury.
The exhibition, which would be a major summer blockbuster anywhere else is a chance for potential buyers to look upon the former Queen star’s personal effects prior to their sale at auction, but also for absolutely everyone else to just gaze on his huge collecting habit.
And what a collection it is, from his huge interest in Japan to his home furnishings to his cats, and of course, the glamour of celebrity for being a member of Queen.
Rather than just filling room after room with objects in cases, they’ve laid the exhibition out thematically, based on the rooms at Freddie Mercury’s home, so you can wander through the dining room, the conservatory, the lounge, and one room few got to see — his collection of Japanese art. Only the closest friends were allowed to see that when he was alive, but now, everyone can see a sample of his huge collection.
He was also a bit catty — as in obsessed with cats — and away from the glamour is a lot of chintz chinaware in cat form. The sort of stuff that candidly would probably sell for a few quid anywhere else, but add in the allure of the previous owner, and they’ll likely sell for a princely sum.
Two pianos are on display, one likely a collectable, but also, in pride of place upstairs is the one he used to rehearse on.
The ground floor is very much a display of Freddie in private, but upstairs is much more Freddie the superstar. Music fans may swoon at the handwritten lyrics, and I’d suggest doing something that I didn’t see anyone else do — look closely at the records in a case — one of them is the original Bohemian Rhapsody sample record for approval.
Obviously, the costumes are here, cleverly displayed on mannequins with 3d-printed replica Freddie Mercury heads, and lots of gold records fill another room with his famous ermine coat proving to be quite the selfie zone.
Sotheby’s has cleverly managed to lay out a huge collection of items that are intended to be sold off, and yet also managed to capture some of the atmosphere of the man who once owned them.
This is the largest exhibition that Sotheby’s has ever put on, taking over every viewing room in the building, and to make it manageable, there’s a formal route to follow, a bit like trying to get around Ikea, although this time there’s fewer meatballs and more bling.
Even if you’re not a Queen fan, this is one of those rare “once in a lifetime” exhibitions of a collection that will never be seen in one location again. Being free to visit is quite amazing.
A note of admiration for the lighting of the paintings. Not only are there no reflections, but step back a bit and the paintings actually glow. It’s top quality lighting at work, and please, museum curators take a look and when you get back to the office, badger your fundraising departments to get you some new lightbulbs.
If not bidding in the auction, you can buy the substantial exhibition catalogue, that comes with a very Sotheby’s price tag of £50, or you can buy a tote bag for £20.
Amusingly, two of the items being sold in the auction are auction catalogues from previous sales where he bought additions to his collection.
It’s open every day from 11am to 4:30pm, except weekends when it opens at noon. The doorman suggested that they expect to be busier in the afternoons, so maybe visit in the mornings.