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David Bowie Is at The V&A

The Archer Station to Station tour, 1976 Credit: © John Robert Rowlands

The Archer Station to Station tour, 1976
Credit: © John Robert Rowlands

The V&A is currently holding a remarkable retrospective retracing the extraordinary career of David Bowie, ‘David Bowie Is’, from his first steps towards musical success influenced by artistic innovations in Britain in the aftermath of the Second World War,  to the true icon he has become – and managed to remain across five decades.

Examining David Bowie’s creative processes, whether it be songwriting, producing or designing costumes, stage sets and album covers, the exhibition offers a particularly rich and diversified display of more than 300 objects, including handwritten lyrics, original costumes, fashion, photography, film, music videos, set designs, as well as Bowie’s own instruments and artwork.

David Bowie and William Burroughs, 1974 Credit: Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive 2012. Image © V&A Images

David Bowie and William Burroughs, 1974
Credit: Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive 2012. Image © V&A Images

The curators brilliantly managed to demonstrate how David Bowie’s music and individualism have both influenced and been influenced by wider movements in art, design and contemporary culture. The exhibition reveals the scope of his inspirations and cultural references from Surrealism and avant-garde mime to West End musicals, German Expressionism or Japanese Kabuki performance, and explores the broad range of Bowie’s collaborations with artists and designers in the fields of fashion, sound, graphics, theatre, art and film.

One of my favourite sections included the stage costumes, with over 60 of them on display, from Ziggy Stardust bodysuits to Yamamoto’s flamboyant creations for the Aladdin Sane tour and the Union Jack coat designed by Bowie and Alexander McQueen for the Earthling album cover in 1997.

Striped bodysuit for Aladdin Sane tour by Kansai Yamamoto, 1973  Credit: © Sukita / The David Bowie Archive 2012

Striped bodysuit for Aladdin Sane tour by Kansai Yamamoto, 1973
Credit: © Sukita / The David Bowie Archive 2012

Beyond a simple display of David Bowie-related items, the exhibition is remarkably built and could be described as an incredible experience., culminating in the final section. Gigantic screens surround the visitor, creating an immersive audiovisual space with projections of some of Bowie’s performances on stage.

Whether you are a Bowie aficionado or mostly curious, you might finally be able to complete the unfinished sentence and your own definition of who David Bowie (really) Is to you.

 Laurie Guillem
David Bowie Is – V&A – 23 March – 11 August 2013
www.vam.ac.uk/davidbowieis