I hope everybody had a lovely time over the holidays, and I’d like to wish you a belated happy new year! I’ve been anticipating the ’20s for a while now, and I’m not-so-secretly hoping that the fashion and the music in this next decade take some cues from the original Roaring ’20s. But we can leave behind a Great Depression and Prohibition! In fact, speaking of legalizing things (and considering I spent my New Year’s Eve in Amsterdam!), I’m really hoping the ’20s are also a decade in which cannabis can be legalized around the world. It’s far more useful, and less harmful, than alcohol, and it’s absolutely medicinal – and essential even, to some people. I hope governments can make a rational decision and make it legal again. Oh there are so many areas in which I hope we make some leaps and bounds towards a better world where we all have more freedom… we’ve come pretty far since the 1920’s but still have so far to go. Anyway… back to Audrey!
I spent my holidays in the Netherlands, with my boyfriend and his family, near Arnhem. Yes, I now officially have a boyfriend! And, like many important people in my life, I can, in a way, thank Audrey for introducing us. But we’ll save that story for another time!
Being so close to Amsterdam, and knowing about the Intimate Audrey exhibit, I decided to go see it as part of my research. The exhibit was created by her son Sean Hepburn Ferrer, and was previously on display in Brussels. I hadn’t managed to include that as a stop in my summer travels, but now that it was in Holland, and I was spending a lot of time in Holland, well… how could I not?
We drove up to Amsterdam on a Saturday and parked the car in our secret “cheap” spot (discovered on New Year’s Eve), and then made the half hour walk over to the Beurs van Berlage. We first had a nice hot coffee and an apple crumble in the adjacent café (mmmmmmm!) before heading into the exhibit.
About two hours later, we emerged. The time definitely flew by! I can’t even remember how many rooms and walls were covered with photos of Audrey. I always tell myself I should take notes or make better mental notes, but no. I’m usually so in the moment that it just doesn’t happen. But I can tell you that it started with a small room with pictures of her parents’ families. Or at least the Van Heemstras. I could only pick out the photos with her mother as a grown woman, or Audrey as a small girl. I didn’t recognize anybody else, and there were no explanations to help us out. It’s always fascinating to look at photos from over a century ago, but I would have loved to know more about the people we were looking at. But as the girl at the reception/gift shop desk told us as we entered, it was more of an “experience” than a record of her life.
There were photos from Audrey’s childhood, and some sweet pictures of her with her brother, Ian, probably in her early 20’s. There were pictures from her wedding to Mel Ferrer, and candid photos with some of her Hollywood friends. Her wedding dress was there, and next to it, a small case with her two gold wedding rings. I was most excited about these, as I’ve designed a recreation ring with a 3D printing company (you can check that out here!). Finally! In person! The rings appeared slightly wider than the one I designed, but otherwise, were identical. You could tell that she favoured the white gold ring (so would I – I’ve had this thing for white gold since I discovered it as a teen!), as the facets were more worn than the ones on the yellow gold ring. Nearby was a cloth napkin with their wedding dinner menu on it, and some old sayings written in German that we tried to translate but mostly failed to understand.
We were not allowed to take pictures of any of the photos (and I assume the rings) in the exhibit, though I sure would have liked to! It was lovely to be able to see some ‘new’ photos of Audrey. Especially candid, off-set pictures. Many of her childhood drawings were also on display, as well as a whole set of notes for a speech she made for UNICEF. It was really a delight to be able to see all of these things.
For those visitors who are familiar Audrey’s life, however, one will immediately be aware of a glaringly obvious omission from the timeline. There was a gaping hole between the end of her marriage to Mel Ferrer, and her UNICEF years. Unless I missed something, there wasn’t even one mention of her marriage to Andrea Dotti, the birth of her son, Luca Dotti, her life in Rome, her second divorce, or her relationship with Robert Wolders.
I don’t even really know what to say about this, as I don’t know the rational behind it. The exhibit was put on by her first son, Sean, and I would think if he only wanted to include pictures and memories from his own life with Audrey, that could perhaps be a logical theme for a gallery. “My life with Audrey,” or something. But it included everything from her childhood to her death – except basically the entire 1970s. There is no logical explanation offered. One could walk away thinking she had had only one husband in her life, and only one son, so I find it terribly misleading. Three very important people to her went unmentioned and unpictured in this exhibit. It doesn’t sit well with me, nor with several other fans I know who have paid a visit. And of course, me being me… I may be the only one to say something about it publicly. Why do I do this? I don’t know. I’m a very open and honest person. I don’t really like lying by omission, and if I didn’t say something about it, I would not be telling the whole truth about my experience. I just can’t not say something, when it’s the one thing that gnawed at me from the moment I noticed it.
Anything I could say about it would be pure speculation and assumptions, though. I was not disappointed, per se, in the exhibit. I loved to see all of the photos, and her rings, and to watch some brief interviews with her friends such as Doris Brynner and Gregory Peck. I loved it. I always love seeing and learning more about Audrey. But I am disappointed in the decision to omit people who were important to her. It could not have been accidental.
The way certain things were labeled, as “my” wedding dress, “my” such-and-such… to create the feeling that Audrey was sharing her photo albums and treasured items with us, is overshadowed by this censorship. She would never have excluded Andrea, Luca, or Robert, in the memory book of her life. If the idea was to make it seem like Audrey was the guide to this trip down memory lane, any personal rivalries should have been put aside to let Audrey speak. Someone should have asked themselves, “What Would Audrey Do?” (I always wish that question had a better abbreviation than WWAD!)
It was a beautiful exhibit and I enjoyed it… but the way it was deliberately curated to erase people from Audrey’s life without explanation to visitors left me wondering what Audrey would have to say about it all. Because of anybody, her opinion is the one that matters most. I can only imagine her deep sighs.
The Amsterdam exhibit ended at the end of January, and I apologize for not writing about it sooner, but I’ve been busy with a lot of things in my personal life. There is a second reason as well, though.
Because there is a second Intimate Audrey exhibit running at the exact same time, in La Spezia, Italy at the Fondazione Carispezia.
At first, I thought I had read that the exhibit was moving to Italy after Amsterdam. But then I realized this was not the case. And then I got very curious, because I heard that her wedding dress and rings were on display there as well. And of course that couldn’t be possible. One or the other would have to be fakes.
So this past weekend, I made the 4 hour drive to La Spezia with my boyfriend to investigate for you. I know not everybody has the opportunity to do this, and I felt that if I could make it happen, I should. And here is what I found…
The wedding dress and rings on display in Italy were definitely replicas. Nowhere nearby was any evident description clarifying this. A close look at the rings confirms that they are brand new, with no wear, and most likely not even made of gold. At this point I regretted not getting a picture of the rings in Brussels but it was absolutely obvious that these were fakes and had never been worn. If I’m able to update this with comparison photos, I will. I was sent one of the wedding dresses, but I would love to show the rings as well.
Neither of the Vespas on display in either location are the original Vespa used in the movie Roman Holiday, if you’re wondering. The original was auctioned off in 2017 for $200,000.
There were definitely some authentic items there, such as two pairs of worn ballet flats, and a pair of tennis shoes she wore for her UNICEF work. There were notes she made in Italian for a UNICEF speech, and a few more of her drawings (although I didn’t pay close enough attention to be able to tell if they were different from the ones in Holland – originals or copies).
The Italian exhibit was maybe half the size of the Amsterdam exhibit, but once again skipped over the 1970s. I did see one photo with Robert Wolders in it, so I’m assuming that same photo may have been in the Amsterdam exhibit as well, and I missed it. Again though, no mention at all of her second husband or child.
Again, no photos were permitted, and I’ve been told it was to ‘protect the copyrights of the photographers,’ but the more I think on that, the more it doesn’t really make sense to me. I’ve been to other photography exhibits were there were no such restrictions on photographing anything. I’m no lawyer, and I know it’s a complicated subject, but…. In my understanding, even if somebody took a picture of a picture, to be able to use that in a commercial capacity, they would have to reach out to the copyright holder of that photo. I don’t believe, just based on what I know, that sharing a picture of another picture is a copyright infringement if there is no commercial intent. Many of the photos were filmed for the promotional videos of the exhibits, which can be found on YouTube. How that isn’t violating copyright and how a picture or video I may take and share is, is beyond my realm of expertise. I also wonder if all of the photographers or copyright holders of all the photos in the entire exhibit gave their permission for the photos to be used. It would have been an enormously large task to track them all down. But perhaps the rules of exhibiting photography are different. I have been unable to sort out the rules of exhibiting other people’s photography. I would assume they took all the necessary steps. If anybody can enlighten me on how displaying other people’s photographs works, I’d love to know, because it’s really not clear to me.
To wrap it all up, I’ll leave you with this. If the original exhibit with her authentic wedding dress and rings is on display again somewhere, I do think it’s worth a visit. There are many many ‘new’ photographs to enjoy. Like I said, we spent a whole two hours in there! The exhibit in La Spezia is worth checking out if you’re in the area, as it is free entrance, but it’s much smaller than the other exhibit, we were in and out in about a half an hour.
For each of them, however, I personally felt extremely awkward walking through and realizing that the curator seemed to be making an effort to erase Audrey’s second husband and son from her life, as if I’d walked into a room and into the middle of a family feud. I had this uneasy feeling that I was supporting something she would not have approved of.
I hate that all recent Audrey events – the Christie’s auction, this exhibit – leave me with mixed emotions. Excitement and curiosity, but also the feeling that it’s not what Audrey would have wanted. I can only hope that things will get better.
So that’s my mixed review of the Intimate Audrey exhibit(s). Did you go? What did you think?