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David Bowie Is

September 6, 2012


To the V&A, for the press launch of next year’s David Bowie Is retrospective. Given access to Bowie’s full archive of costumes, memorabilia, drawings, diaries and artefacts of his five-decade-long career, curators Victoria Broakes and Geoffrey Marsh have collated more than 300 items for display in an exhibition which will open on March 2013.

Following a recent statement from Bowie, the V&A is keen to stress that Bowie himself was not involved in the selection of items; this is the museum’s take on Bowie. They’re keen, too, with the present-tense title, to show that Bowie has a continuing influence on art, fashion, film, music, and even architecture – a new apartment block in Melbourne (where else?) is finished with a five-storey-tall rendering of the iconic cover illustration from Aladdin Sane.

On show at the launch were a handful of items which will appear in the show: handwritten lyrics, in a bobbly childish hand, for ‘Five Years’ and ‘Fame’ (co-written with John Lennon); the mock-up of a proposed booklet for 1975’s Young Americans album, and most excitingly, three of the most distinctive Bowie outfits, from three decades: the McQueen-designed Union Flag coat seen on the cover of Earthling (1997), the Pierrot costume Bowie wears in the hugely influential ‘Ashes to Ashes’ video of 1982 and on the cover of the parent album Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), and perhaps most excitingly, the colourful knit outfit inspired by Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange that Bowie wore on Top of the Pops in 1972 when he performed ‘Starman’ and changed the face of popular music. ‘I had to phone someone,’ he sings in the clip, dandling his hand until the outstretched index finger is aimed directly at the viewer, ‘so I picked on you.’ Countless bolts of Aladdin Sane-esque lightning transfixed the astonished viewers: ‘We could have done a show based entirely around people whose lives were changed by that moment,’ says Broackes.

A mock-up of one of the exhibition rooms was shown: expect something similar, design-wise, to last year’s V&A Postmodernism show. Costumes are encased in a series of boxes from floor to ceiling (suggesting some may not be terribly easy to view), while Fifty Nine Productions, responsible for some of the cutting-edge projections seen during the London Olympics’ opening ceremony, have devised an elaborate means by which video footage both familiar and rare will be seen.

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From → Art, Music

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