I recently attended the preview of V&A’s extremely popular David Bowie Is exhibition. I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of David Bowie. The one minor link is his work with Jim Henson on Labyrinth and I like the song Under Pressure. Other than that, he was just a character with a cult following I never really grasp.
Top tip: Take the Headphones!
After your ticket is checked, you are offered a headset. Take it! This is not your normal audio guide with punching in numbers. The V&A digital team has used RFID technology throughout the exhibition to automatically launch the appropriate information, song, interviews, etc depending on where you are in the gallery. This was brilliant as it meant I didn’t have to go up to the display and locate the audio guide symbol and number, nor did I have to punch the number in. This raised the exhibition to a different level for me as I found myself staying longer in areas to finish listening to what was being shared.
When you first enter the exhibition, you’re met with Fashion Bowie and teasers of the non-musical aspect of this complex man. With over 600 items in the collections to choose from, I’ll concentrate on the items that challenged my stereotype of this artist.
Bowie the Artist
Again, having not been a huge fan of Bowie, I never realized he is an artist. The items selected show his progression through the years.
Bowie the Fashion Guru
Ok, well even I knew he was into fashion but what I didn’t realze was he was the mastermind and designer behind much of his works. Bowie took influence from several popular fashion designers (Masayoshi Sukita, Alexander Queen) to create fabulous creations that had his stamp and flair added to them.
Bowie the Technology Wizard
Ever hear of a Verbasizer program? Back in 1995 Bowie and Ty Roberts used this bespoke computer program to ‘input sentences and randomly mix them into new phrases, create ‘a real kaleidoscope of meanings and topics and nouns and verbs, all sort of slamming into each other.’
Bowie the Character
In ’67 Bowie found theater/stage. In the 70’s, he got into acting, make-up, costume. This is when MajorTom, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Halloween Jack, Thin White Duke and others are created.
But the biggest character is Bowie. Like surrealist Marcel Duchamp in 1923 ‘finds that you can perform by not performing and that, in a celebrity-soaked world, a character off-stage can remain on stage.’
Very similar to Andy Warhol who made art of himself.
Bowie the Lyricist & Writer
There are many examples of Bowie’s incredibly genius writing skills throughout the exhibition. And like all good writers, there are many edits, re-writes and complete paragraphs crossed out.
Periodic Table of Bowie. This was created by artist Paul Robertson who happened to be there at the launch. The original table was much larger but was scaled down for the exhibition.
The curators who had the task of limiting the choices within the archives was Victoria Broackers, curator of Theatre & Performance and Geoffrey March, Director of V&A Theatre Collections.
However, despite the sold out indication on the website (£14 a ticket), there are still tickets available! Bowie has a huge cult following that are avid collectors who have ordered tickets to add to their scrape books but will not attend. Unfortunately there is no way to indicate this on the website but I would suggest taking a risk and showing up (maybe starting after Easter).
Five out of Five stars from me. The exhibition did as it should – converted a person who knew little to nothing about the subject and made me learn in a non-intrusive way. The technology used was exciting but not complicated for the visitor.
There is enough items on each of the many facets of Bowie to satisfy the hard core fans and casual observers.
The design and layout of the exhibition is one of the best I’ve ever seen (probably due to the theatre element from Victoria Broackers and Geoffrey March).