I’ve never been a Bowie-phile, but after visiting the David Bowie is exhibition at the V&A last week it’s difficult not to feel as though such fan status could be on the cards in the near future.
After emerging from a couple of hours spent immersed in the stupendously-curated and presented exhibition (into, what else, but a gift shop where you can immediately purchase your David Bowie pencils, chocolate coins and earrings), it seems that the V&A has gone beyond achieving their objective of putting together an exhibition about “one of the most iconic figures of our time,” but instead lead if not brainwash you into seeing Bowie as the singular most important figure modern popular culture has ever, or will ever, know.
As overblown as it all seemed a day or so later, once removed from the all-encompassing sensory experience David Bowie is affords (you are provided with a headset upon entering and as you move around the exhibit, depending on what item you’re standing in front of, appropriate audio clips play), it’s actually quite refreshing to experience hero-worship on such a grand and uninhibited scale for someone who is still alive.
Sorry to be morbid, but why is it that we’re only allowed to reflect on and appreciate a public figure and their worth once it’s that little too late? Although this exhibition has been artfully timed to coincide with the current Bowie renaissance, it’s encouraging to know that in our disposable 140-character world there is still one pop star out there that has the ability to remain silent for ten years and also to send the world into a positive tizzy.
With over 300 artefacts from Bowie’s archives on display, it’s difficult to appreciate everything on show in just one visit. Plus it was easy to walk or, in our case, be pushed past plenty of items when you’re just one amongst 600 other invited media types who wanted to beat the 47,000 other punters who have already bought their tickets to visit this retrospective. So from what we did get to see, here are relics we found most interesting at David Bowie is:
Footage of David Bowie meeting Andy Warhol – A black and white silent film clip shows a 1971 encounter between the two pop culture mammoths. It looks like a pretty tense and awkward social situation.
Handwritten lyrics – Lyrics scribed by Bowie’s own fair hand include Starman and Oh! You Pretty Things, amongst others. Whether using a scratchy biro or a thick blue felt tip, his handwriting, strangely, never looks the same.
Clown costume worn on Saturday Night Live in 1979 – The oversized monochrome clown outfit Bowie wore for this performance was so restrictive that he had to be carried to the front of the stage by his backing singers. The 1920s avant-garde cabaret style performance David Bowie gave of The Man Who Sold The World, backed by performance artists Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias, plays on a continuous loop alongside the outfit Bowie wore. Having never seen this material before, I stopped to watch it twice.
A used tissue – Are we supposed to be impressed or amused by the fact that a tissue used to blot his lipstick in 1974 has been saved and now put on display by the David Bowie Archive? One man’s trash…
Where Are We Now puppet – This creepy, two-headed little creature is weirdly fascinating. Plus the fact that it sits alongside the silver Natasha Korniloff Pierrot costume worn in the Ashes To Ashes video, shows that it’s a modern prop, not from a golden Bowie era, that can hold its own.
Immersive audio-visual space – By far, the most impressive section of the exhibition is a room shrouded in darkness, lit by huge silk screens showing video projections of David Bowie live performances. You are encouraged to sit and enjoy a truly surround sound and sight experience. It’s also worth hanging around as once the film clips fade out, hidden behind the screens are a number of stage costumes.
David Bowie is takes place at The V&A from 23rd March – 11th August 2013