Elvis is Everywhere: D.C. Museums Celebrate the King's 75th Birthday

April 14, 2010

HE’S BEEN SPOTTED working at a Burger King near Provo. Pumping gas outside of Detroit. Living large somewhere in the Middle East, even hiding in the tunnels of his underground bunker below Graceland.

Piffle. We know where Elvis Presley can be found — right here in Washington, D.C., which is in the throes of something like Elvismania, circa 1956. Sightings have ranged from Dupont Circle to Foggy Bottom to downtown, in aspects from two-dimensional to liquid.

Whether he’s alive or not — shhh: probably — the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was born 75 years ago as of this past Jan. 8, and the District is throwing him a party befitting rock royalty.

The National Portrait Gallery’sOne Life: Echoes of Elvis” trains the spotlight not on Elvis himself, but on Elvisiana — the tangible vapor trails of influence the singer and cultural icon spread among other artists, from fine-art practitioners such as Red Grooms and Ralph Wolfe Cowan — both of whom acknowledged and toyed with Elvis’ natural kitsch factor before transforming it into playful high art — to photographer William Eggleston’s evocative, off-kilter shots of Presley’s Memphis home, Graceland, where his presence is an implied supernatural force.

Lauded American visionary the Rev. Howard Finster pays typically colorful and mysterious tribute in a series of paintings, while the King takes on a distinctly Clintonian cast in the dignified, Romanesque bust by Robert Arenson.

The Newseum is taking a slightly more sober approach to documenting Presley’s career and impact on worldwide culture. Despite the breathless television-ready title, “Elvis! His Groundbreaking, Hip-Shaking, Newsmaking Story” is not a VH1 special, but a multimedia exhibit featuring vintage video footage, rare photographs, original (!) magazines and newspapers, private letters and telegrams, sacred relics including Presley’s 1957 Harley-Davidson, his 1973 American Eagle jumpsuit and cape, and a gold-and-diamond-studded belt.



“Elvis” may belong to the culture, but Presley lived practically his whole life before the camera, and in newsprint and newsreel footage. His relationship to the press is integral to his relationship to us, fans and consumers of his music, films and presence in our national psyche.

But enough of this navel-gazing, chin-pulling and museum-strolling — where can a thirsty Elvis fan get a drink that won’t break the spell? A number of suspiciously bright, rich and delicious cocktails with Elvisian themes can be found in various restaurants around town. Check out a roundup and description of these drinks here in our Dining section.

Can’t get enough? Hang on until October, when the traveling exhibition “Elvis at 21: Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer,” comes to the gallery. Opening on Oct. 30, the show features the gorgeous, astute black-and-white photographs of Elvis in his youth, relatively unhounded by the press — although women seemed to dig him. With astounding access to the artist, Wertheimer chronicles Presley’s backstage, day-to-day, business, mundane, romantic and performing lives, cumulatively fleshing out a portrait of an artist in his prime.

» National Portrait Gallery, 8th & F streets NW; “One Life: Echoes of Elvis,” through Aug. 29, free; 202-633-8300. (Metro Center/Gallery Place-Chinatown)
» Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; “Elvis!” through Feb. 14; $13-$20; 888-639-7386. (Archives-Navy Memorial)

Photo courtesy The Commercial Appeal

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express · April 14, 2010