David Bowie Is, presents the first worldwide exhibition on the exceptional career of the cultural icon, David Bowie. London’s Victoria and Albert Museum was given “unprecedented access” to the David Bowie archives in order to curate the collection.
The retrospective has traveled from London’s V&A, to Toronto and Sao Paulo, Brazil. It is currently on show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago until January 4, 2015, its only US location. More than 300 items including original costumes, set designs, handwritten lyrics and diary entries, photography, album artwork, Bowie’s own instruments, and rare performance material have been amassed for the first time.
Deemed one of the most influential performers of present-day, English musician, David Bowie is a pioneer and an innovator. The retrospective surveys how his work has shaped and has been influenced by broader movements in art, theater, design, and contemporary culture. It concentrates on his artistic process as a musical innovator, and his chameleon, ever-changing styles in fashion and technique that sustained five decades of reinvention. In addition, the retrospective explores his collective works with designers and artists.
Assembled in chronological order, the exhibit traces Bowie’s progression from his teenage years to when he retired from touring in the early 2000s. Highlights of the retrospective include his beginnings with The Kon-rads, a London band in 1963.
In the late 70s, Bowie left the Los Angeles scene and moved to Berlin. The retrospective explores the Berlin Trilogy, a period in the artist’s life when he was seeking out new inspiration. It draws on the influences of German Expressionism, Dadaism and even cabaret through paintings and paper ephemera.
In 1972, the Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust became tantamount with David Bowie. Centered on the fictitious rock star, Bowie’s alter ego, Ziggy Stardust was a messenger to extraterrestrials. Visitors can regard his glam-rocker Ziggy Stardust bodysuit created by designer, Freddie Buretti, and the English photographer, Brian Duffy’s Stardust images, and album artwork by Edward Bell and Guy Peellaert.
According to Bowie, his 1973 Aladdin Sane was “Ziggy meeting fame.” It was a name play on “A Lad Insane,” and a pivotal period in his career. His album hit number one on the charts. It was the first success but not the last for the cultural icon, David Bowie. Inspirited by the blend of Japanese samurai and kabuki actors, his showy Kansai Yamato costumes from this tour are on display. In addition, Brian Duffy’s images, an innovative, seven-color print process is also on view. In 1973, Ben Gerson wrote a review in Rolling Stone magazine about Aladdin Sane. He referenced Bowie in the artwork as the lad that is “air-brushed into androgyny.”
On the Station-to-Station tour in 1976, Bowie took on the persona of the Thin White Duke with slicked back hair, and a packet of Gitanes. For this chameleonic character, he was no longer a spaceman, but a gentleman in 1920s Berlin. Several of the costumes designed by Ola Hudson from this tour are on view in the exhibition.
Multimedia installations featuring continuous audio accompaniment, immerse visitors in the sights and sounds of the performer’s artistic life. Selections from performances such as Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, highlight Bowie’s acting career. Music videos like Boys Keep Swinging, and early performance footage from his teenage Kon-rad band days are also shown.
The rocker-artist’s adaptations throughout his career are pivotal to his role in contemporary culture. David Bowie Is highly germane to today’s musical artists, and have influenced Grace Jones, Iggy Pop, Wu Tsang, Madonna, Janelle Monae and of course, Lady Gaga.
By: Dawn Levesque
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago