Saturday with Elizabeth Taylor and Annie Leibovitz

NEW YORK—Yesterday, I observed two exhibits honoring exceptional women—one showcased the work of Annie Leibovitz, who is acclaimed for her arresting photography; the other paid tribute to the life of Elizabeth Taylor, who was famously photographed.

The Pace Gallery held a special three-day showing of Annie Leibovitz’s “Pilgrimage” that concluded on Saturday. The exhibition is drawn from her journeys around the country documenting Americana via historic places and objects. Leibovitz’s work is usually praised for its aesthetics, but it is the content of the images in “Pilgrimage” that is particularly intriguing.

She visited many sites including Niagara Falls, Gettysburg, Yellowstone, Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Mass., and the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance in Yonkers, N.Y. Along the way she photographed Georgia O’Keefe’s pastels in New Mexico, glass negatives from President Lincoln’s 1864 portrait at the National Archives and Ansel Adams’s dark room in Carmel, Calif., among many other images.

Her pilgrimage also took her to the UK where she captured significant scenes and locales such as the patient couch in Sigmund Freud’s London study and Virginia Woolf’s home in Charleston, England.

Leibovitz shot the entire project, which has also been published as a coffee table book, using digital photography. (Pace usually allows visitors to photograph its exhibits, but Leibovitz requested the gallery prohibit photographs of her show.) “Pilgrimage” will open at the Smithsonian American Art Museum on Jan. 20, where it will be on view through May 20, 2012.

Photos by Arts Observer

The Taylor exhibit continues through Dec. 12, and the auction is from Dec. 13 to 16.

Saturday was also the opening day of Christie’s “The Collection of Elizabeth Taylor” exhibition. Nearly 2,000 items belonging to the Hollywood icon and humanitarian committed to AIDS research and awareness will be sold by the auction house. The 10-day viewing will culminate with sales (some items offered online only) over four days (Dec. 13 to Dec. 16) devoted to Taylor’s legendary collection of jewels, designer clothing and accessories, decorative arts, and collectibles and memorabilia.

Timed tickets are required to view the exhibit. I purchased a ticket for 3:30 p.m. and had to wait in a long line for an hour before gaining entry. It appeared both Christie’s and ticket holders were surprised by the overwhelming crowd and interest. Christie’s staff was careful to continuously monitor the line, graciously apologizing for the wait and explaining the elements of the exhibit and what to expect once inside.

More than 2,000 people paid $30 each to see the exhibit on the opening day; At top, Elizabeth Taylor at the Rothschild Proust Ball, 1971 (silver gelatin print) by Cecil Beaton, est. $2,000 to $3,000.

The show was split between two floors across about seven galleries and began with “Liz,” an Andy Warhol portrait (not for sale) and a display of countless jewelry boxes demonstrating how Taylor labeled her keepsakes with dates and their provenance. The stars of the exhibit are two pieces given to Taylor by Richard Burton: A 33.19 carat diamond ring purchased in 1968 that is estimated to sell for between $2.5 and $3.5 million; and a 1969 diamond, pearl and ruby necklace Taylor designed with Cartier expected to go for $2 to $3 million.

Large galleries are devoted to her clothing, mostly her signature caftans, tunics and evening gowns from premiere designers. One display recreates her closet showing a selection of countless handbags and coordinating accessories arranged by color.

Posters from Taylor’s films including “Butterfield 8” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” movie scripts, and fine art and photographs are also up for auction. Two paintings in particular stood out: “Vue de l’Asile et de la Chappelle de Saint-Rémy,” an 1889 Vincent Van Gogh; and Kees Von Dogen’s “Promenade à cheval.” Other highlights include director’s chairs emblazoned with Taylor’s name on the back, about a dozen pieces of Louis Vuitton luggage and dresses Taylor wore for her first and second weddings to Burton. The show also features a special display of her Oscars (not for sale).

The exhibit is a dream for Taylor fans and jewelry aficionados, and even those just curious about the collection for the cultural factor won’t be disappointed.

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