Exhibition review: Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait, Jewish Museum, London, July 3 – September 15 2013
The Jewish Museum’s portrait of Amy Winehouse could, in some ways, seem rather slight, so saturated were we by the deluge of car-crash footage, papped photos, distasteful tittle-tattle and gossip fodder during the latter years of the singer’s brief life.
© Mark Okoh / Camera Press
Heavily shaped and annotated by her brother Alex, who amusingly recalls an at-times quarrelsome sibling relationship, this affectionate display is thankfully bereft of pictures of a young woman’s declining health.
It goes further and deeper into her upbringing and early life than anything produced since her star fizzed into focus in 2003. In doing so, it becomes more accurate and meaningful than any of the obtuse, occasionally grotesque mirroring used to try and reflect her life since then.
Much of the music memorabilia centres on her 2004 gigs, witness to a tour of such intense precocity only the stone-hearted could not smile at the memory.
Winehouse’s rare chutzpah made her an instant enigma – at the time, she gave a primetime lampooning to Jonathan Ross when the broadcaster suggested her management might have designs on changing her.
Her spikily eloquent application letter to the Sylvia Young School, outlining her thoughts on education next to the regulation jumper she was subsequently issued with, evidences how early she burned to perform.
Nothing about Winehouse was artificially stylised, from her collection of rockabilly magnets and love for tracksuit tops to her crate of hip-hop and 60s girl pop records and oldest, comically tuneless guitar.
All her roots were embedded in a family life she cherished. A family tree reaches back to her grandparents, one of whom, Cynthia, became a tattoo on Winehouse’s arm.
There’s also an old suitcase brimful of photos of the family, reputedly pored over by her father, Mitch, at her insistence in the days leading up to her death – the final time dad and daughter would meet.
Nine years beforehand, Alex bought his sister a bestselling Jewish cookery book. She had requested it as a birthday present, keen to perfect her chicken soup.
As much as Winehouse wanted to be famous – her fame would be a by-product of making her audiences temporarily forget their troubles – in her own mind she would also be something of a domestic goddess.
If the little music she committed to record leaves you wanting more, this is a thoughtful glimpse of an unstoppable talent which captures Winehouse’s spirit in a refreshingly pure way.
- Admission £3.50-£7.50 (free for under-5s, family ticket £18). Book online. Follow the museum on Twitter @JewishMuseumLDN.
© The Winehouse family
© The Winehouse family
© The Jewish Museum / The Winehouse family