Diana, A Celebration at the Design Exchange (234 Bay) to April 11. $25, stu/srs $20, child $15. 416-872-1212, 1-800-461-3333. Rating: NNNN
At a certain point, clothes no longer just keep you from being naked. With a measure of care, thought and handiwork they become bona fide art works. Of course, it helps if you had the late Princess Diana as your canvas. Six years after she became a memory, Diana's wish to be thought of more as a workhorse than a clothes horse has not been granted. Her gorgeous couture dresses are the focal point of a new exhibition curated by her family.
Timely or what? Everyone's talking about the tabloid revelation that Diana believed Prince Charles intended to rub her out. True or not, she certainly seems to have stumbled into darker corners not hinted at in this luminous exhibition. Despite this hardly unexpected lack of depth, the show is surprisingly succinct and impressive.
The first stage is getting into the high-security show. They only let a certain number of people in at a time, which is nice if you've ever been to a ridiculously crowded premiere exhibition. (Make reservations for the weekend, but you can usually walk in off the street during the week.)
After a quick overview of the jaw-dropping jewellery of some long-dead Spencer women, the show moves on to items from Diana's youth. Handwritten notes to "darling Daddy," photographs and home films shot by the same, Maurice Sendak books, school uniforms and other typical childhood things fill glass cases.
Especially interesting is her life-long collection of ceramic and stuffed frogs and turtles, the funny-looking animals perhaps a sign of the kind of funny-looking men she'd be attracted to later.
Diana, A Celebration is certainly a triumph of leaching out any emotion felt or inspired by the princess during her lifetime. Her wedding dress does occupy an entire room and is indeed impressive. It's here, if you were one of the billion who watched the royal wedding, that you might start to feel something.
A nice local touch is the Toronto Star hall of photos, highlights of her tour of Canada. Images of her charitable acts line the walls of another room but have been given less attention than other aspects of her life. Her death is marked elegantly with film footage of the outpouring of public grief, set, thankfully, to sombre music and not Candle In The Wind - although the song's score and words are on display. Exhibited in the most impressive hall, just past this section, are the gorgeous silhouetted Valentino and Versace dresses. It's strange staging - as if the dresses are larger than her life. Then again, if you think about it, maybe they are.