Curator Lauren Ellis expects two types of visitors to converge on Elvis: Direct From Graceland when it opens at the Bendigo Art Gallery on March 19. "There'll be Elvis fans of course," she says, "I've learnt a lot about the unique and personal, treasured place he has in so many people's memories and identities; they'll be wanting an experience that lives up to their in-depth knowledge and deeply held beliefs about his life, his career."
And then there'll be the other type of visitor - they'll be there because the gallery has a decades-long reputation for delivering fashion and culture-diving blockbusters: Grace Kelly, Edith Head, Marilyn Monroe, Balenciaga and Mary Quant.
Ellis says this exhibition will beguile them all. "It'll shed light on why Elvis has this extraordinary status," she says. "Why he was so important to the development of 20th century visual and pop culture."
"He set the mould for what is very commonplace in celebrity culture today," Ellis says, "He had this killer combination of the look, the sound, the onstage performance but he also constructed this iconic star image in a time before stylists, before social media. He did it by instinct, by this incredible magpie-like knack of picking and choosing from all these cultural influences around him."
It's taken almost two years and countless Zooms for Ellis to nut out the 300-odd items needed to tell Elvis's amazing story - how he built his own brand, how he rocketed out of poverty to play the role of rich benefactor to his minions, and how that all fits into modern-day celebrity culture.
"It's so wide-ranging," she says of the exhibition, "Taking in all the phases of his life from a shack in rural Mississippi in the 1930s to his iconic rock'n roll look in the 50s, to the technicolour of Hollywood, the fashion and style excesses - the bombastic bling of the 1970s."
Exhibits were picked from Graceland, the Memphis home Presley bought for his mum and never abandoned. It's run as a wildly popular archive and tourist museum - a virtual church to Presley - and Bendigo Gallery's initiative is its first ever collaboration on a major exhibition.
Items range from humble to intimate; a family hymnal, a crayon box, a job application form, to the most extravagantly flashy; Presley's red 1960 MG convertible, his 1976 Harley Davidson motorbike, an evolutionary timeline of fashions from his early career as a swivel-hipped rock star to no less than 18 of those "bombastically blingy" jumpsuits that defined his Las Vegas showman years.
"We've worked on ways to evoke that energy, that scale of his presence," Ellis says. "It's a pretty dynamic (exhibition) design so you'll feel like you've been through a kind of visual and emotional journey, though the big crescendos of his life and then these periods of exhaustion and withdrawal.."
It won't be a quiet exhibition either. "We'll use soundtracks to take people on a musical journey," Ellis says, "The cool, slightly rough rock and roll sound of the 50s and, in a spectacular display of those jumpsuits, the live recordings of those big Vegas stage performances of the 1970s so you get a real sense of the crowd and banter through the microphone.."
Elvis: Direct from Graceland, March 19 - July 17, 2022, tickets $25-$30.