Elvis is in the house and Ali is in the ring. Two of America's most well-known icons — “the King of Rock ’n’ Roll” and “the Greatest” — meet at the James A. Michener Art Museum (PA) beginning this Saturday and running through May 15. They will be spotlighted in “Ali and Elvis: American Icons,” featuring two photography exhibitions: the Smithsonian’s “Elvis at 21” and art2art’s “Muhammad Ali: The Making of an Icon.”
With “Elvis at 21” freelance photojournalist Alfred Wertheimer was hired by RCA Victor in 1956 to shoot promotional images of recently signed 21-year-old recording artist Elvis Presley. Wertheimer’s instincts were to “tag along” with the artist after the assignment and the resulting images provide us with a look at Elvis before he exploded onto the scene and became one of the most exciting performers of his time.
“Elvis at 21” was developed collaboratively by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and the Govinda Gallery.
Wertheimer had unparalleled access and documented Elvis on the road, backstage, in concert, in the recording studio and at home in Memphis, Tenn. “Colonel” Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager, restricted contact just a short time later.
“Muhammad Ali: The Making of an Icon” chronicles the life and times of the now-iconic figure who was simultaneously the most beloved and most reviled man in boxing and who still engenders a strong emotional response from people almost 50 years after his initial rise to public prominence.
The exhibit, organized by art2art, provides a glimpse of rarely seen moments of his personal life as well as more famous episodes from his career. These images not only illustrate the enormous changes that he went through — from a patriotic Olympic champion to a draft-resisting member of the Nation of Islam to a figure of racial reconciliation — but also show that Ali’s gregarious, funny and likable personality remained intact even as a super-charged political atmosphere swirled around him.
Ali’s story is one of an American hero who has come full circle in the hearts and minds of people throughout the world, and features more than 50 photographs by such distinguished photographers as Annie Leibovitz, Gordon Parks and Art Shay that capture Ali’s positive public image.
IF YOU GO: The James A. Michener Art Museum is located at 138 S. Pine St., Doylestown. Museum hours: Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m. Admission is adults $12.50; seniors $11.50; college students with valid ID $9.50; ages 6-18 $6; under 6 free. For information, visit www.michenerartmuseum.org or call 215-340-9800. Address: James A. Michener Art Museum, 138 S. Pine St. Doylestown, PA 18901.