David Bowie is
at the V&A

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A collection of original costumes, set designs, photographs, instruments and other objects from David Bowie's personal archive will go on show at the V&A museum in London this March, coinciding with the release of the pop star's first album and single in a decade.

David Bowie is at the V&A

Above: striped bodysuit for Aladdin Sane tour designed by Kansai Yamamoto (1973), photograph by Masayoshi Sukita from The David Bowie Archive
Top image: The Archer Station to Station tour (1976), photograph by John Rowlands

The V&A's Theatre and Performance curators have selected over 300 objects for the exhibition, titled David Bowie is, which will be the first international retrospective of the singer's career.

David Bowie is at the V&A

Above: album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane (1973) courtesy of Duffy Archive

The exhibition will explore how David Bowie’s music has both influenced and been influenced by wider movements in art, design and contemporary culture.

David Bowie is at the V&A

Above: original photography for Earthling album cover (1997) by Frank W Ockenfels 3

On display will be more than 60 stage costumes, including the Ziggy Stardust bodysuits designed by Freddie Burretti in 1972, Kansai Yamamoto’s creations for the 1973 Aladdin Sane tour and a Union Jack coat designed by Alexander McQueen for the cover of the 1997 album Earthling.

David Bowie is at the V&A

Above: photo collage of manipulated film stills from The Man Who Fell to Earth (1975-6) courtesy of The David Bowie Archive and Studiocanal Films Ltd

Also on show will be photography, handwritten lyrics, album sleeve artwork, music videos and excerpts from films and live performances.

David Bowie is at the V&A

Above: David Bowie and William Burroughs, photographed by Terry O'Neill and hand coloured by Bowie (1974) from The David Bowie Archive, courtesy of V&A Images

The exhibition opens on 23 March and continues until 28 July.

David Bowie is at the V&A

Above: promotional shoot for The Kon-rads photographed by Roy Ainsworth (1963) from The David Bowie Archive, courtesy of V&A Images

Yesterday we reported that graphic design studio Barnbrook defaced a classic Bowie album to create the cover for his forthcoming album, The Next Day.

David Bowie is at the V&A

Above: cut up lyrics for ‘Blackout’ from “Heroes” (1977) from The David Bowie Archive, courtesy of V&A Images

The V&A recently opened its new permanent gallery for furniture, displaying objects from the middle ages to the present day by designers including Charles and Ray Eames and Ron Arad.

David Bowie is at the V&A

Above: self-portrait in pose also adopted for the album cover of “Heroes” (1978) from The David Bowie Archive, courtesy of V&A Images

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Here's the full press release from the V&A:


David Bowie is

In partnership with Gucci. Sound experience by Sennheiser. 23 March – 28 July 2013

The V&A has been given unprecedented access to the David Bowie Archive to curate the first international retrospective of the extraordinary career of David Bowie - one of the most pioneering and influential performers of modern times. David Bowie is (opening next spring), will explore the creative processes of Bowie as a musical innovator and cultural icon, tracing his shifting style and sustained reinvention across five decades.

The V&A’s Theatre and Performance curators, Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh, have selected more than 300 objects that will be brought together for the very first time. They include handwritten lyrics, original costumes, fashion, photography, film, music videos, set designs, Bowie’s own instruments and album artwork. The V&A will take an in-depth look at how David Bowie’s music and radical individualism has both influenced and been influenced by wider movements in art, design and contemporary culture. The exhibition will also demonstrate how he has inspired others to challenge convention and pursue freedom of expression.

The exhibition will explore the broad range of Bowie’s collaborations with artists and designers in the fields of fashion, sound, graphics, theatre, art and film. On display will be more than 60 stage-costumes including Ziggy Stardust bodysuits (1972) designed by Freddie Burretti, Kansai Yamamoto’s flamboyant creations for the Aladdin Sane tour (1973) and the Union Jack coat designed by Bowie and Alexander McQueen for the Earthling album cover (1997). Also on show will be photography by Brian Duffy, Terry O’Neill and Masayoshi Sukita; album sleeve artwork by Guy Peellaert and Edward Bell; visual excerpts from films and live performances including The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) and Saturday Night Live (1979); music videos such as Boys Keep Swinging (1979) and Let’s Dance (1983) and set designs created for the Diamond Dogs tour (1974).

Alongside these will be more personal items such as never-before-seen storyboards, handwritten set lists and lyrics as well as some of Bowie’s own sketches, musical scores and diary entries, revealing the evolution of his creative ideas.

Martin Roth, Director of the V&A, said: "David Bowie is a true icon, more relevant to popular culture now than ever. His radical innovations across music, theatre, fashion and style still resound today in design and visual culture and he continues to inspire artists and designers throughout the world. We are thrilled to be presenting the first ever exhibition drawn from the David Bowie Archive."

Frida Giannini, Gucci Creative Director, said: "David Bowie is... one of my greatest inspirations. His individuality, originality and authenticity have been defining. Through his creative genius his influence on music, fashion, art and popular culture over decades has been immeasurable and will continue to be for decades to come."

Exhibition Overview

The exhibition will offer insight into Bowie’s early years and his first steps towards musical success. Tracing the creative aspirations of the young David Robert Jones (born 1947 in Brixton, London), it will show how he was inspired by innovations in art, theatre, music, technology and youth culture in Britain in the aftermath of the Second World War. Pursuing a professional career in music and acting, he officially adopted the stage name ‘David Bowie’ in 1965 and went through a series of self-styled changes from Mod to mime artist and folk singer to R&B musician in anticipation of the shifting nature of his later career. On display will be early photographs, LPs from his musical heroes such as Little Richard, and Bowie’s sketches for stage sets and costumes created for his bands The Kon-rads and The King Bees in the 1960s. This opening section will conclude with a focus on Bowie’s first major hit Space Oddity (1969) and the introduction of the fictional character Major Tom, who would be revisited by Bowie in both Ashes to Ashes (1980) and Hallo Spaceboy (1995). Inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the single was released to coincide with the first moon landing and was Bowie’s breakthrough moment, granting him critical and commercial success as an established solo artist.

The exhibition will move on to examine David Bowie’s creative processes from song writing, recording and producing to designing costumes, stage sets and album artwork. Working within both established art forms and new artistic movements, this section will reveal the scope of his inspirations and cultural references from Surrealism, Brechtian theatre and avant-garde mime to West End musicals, German Expressionism and Japanese Kabuki performance. On show will be some of Bowie’s own musical instruments, footage and photography of recording sessions for Outside (1995) and ‘Hours...’ (1999) as well as handwritten lyrics and word collages inspired by William Burroughs’ ‘cut up’ method of writing that have never previously been publicly displayed.

David Bowie is will chronicle his innovative approach to creating albums and touring shows around fictionalised stage personas and narratives. 1972 marked the birth of his most famous creation; Ziggy Stardust, a human manifestation of an alien being. Ziggy’s daringly androgynous and otherworldly appearance has had a powerful and continuous influence on pop culture, signalling a challenge of social traditions and inspiring people to shape their own identities. On display will be the original multi-coloured suit worn for the pivotal performance of Starman on Top of the Pops in July 1972, as well as outfits designed for stage characters Aladdin Sane and The Thin White Duke. Costumes from The 1980 Floor Show (1973), album cover sleeves for The Man Who Sold the World (1970) and Hunky Dory (1971), alongside press cuttings and fan material, will highlight Bowie’s fluid stylistic transformations and his impact on social mobility and gay liberation.

The final section will celebrate David Bowie as a pioneering performer both on stage and in film, concentrating on key performances throughout his career. An immersive audio-visual space will present dramatic projections of some of Bowie’s most ambitious music videos including DJ (1979) and The Hearts Filthy Lesson (1995), as well as recently uncovered footage of Bowie performing Jean Genie on Top of the Pops in 1973 and D.A. Pennebaker’s film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture (1973). A separate screening room will show excerpts and props from Bowie’s feature films such as Labyrinth (1986) and Basquiat (1996).

In addition, this gallery will trace the evolution of the lavishly produced Diamond Dogs tour (1974), the design of which was inspired by Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1927) and George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). The tour combined exuberant choreography and a colossal set design, taking the combination of rock music and theatre to new heights. On display will be previously unseen tour footage and storyboards for the proposed musical that Bowie would eventually transform into the Diamond Dogs album and touring show. An area will also be dedicated to the monochrome theatricality of Bowie’s Berlin period and the creation of the stylish Thin White Duke persona identified with the Station to Station album and tour (1976). It will also investigate the series of experimental and pioneering records he produced between 1977 and 1979 whilst living in Germany, known as the Berlin Trilogy.
David Bowie is will conclude with a display of striking performance and fashion photography taken by photographers including Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts and John Rowlands. These professional portraits will be juxtaposed with a collage of visual projections illustrating Bowie’s immense creative influence and ubiquitous presence in music, fashion and contemporary visual and virtual culture.

  • GALESSA

    London in March? Count me in!

  • Concerned Citizen

    He takes himself way to seriously. So do his sponsors.

  • blah

    Do you have one really funky sequined space suit, Bowie
    Or do you have several ch-changes?
    Do they smoke grass out in space, Bowie
    Or do they smoke Astroturf, ooh?