Exhibition Review: David Bowie Is @ V&A (2013)

on Wednesday, March 20, 2013
'David Bowie is' exhibition at Victoria & Albert Museum, London (23 March - 11 Aug '13) // Words: Saam Das

At face value, it may appear that the V&A are attempting to cash-in on the recent David Bowie revival, which has culminated in a number one UK album. Yet this new David Bowie is exhibition has been the fruit of three years of hard work. Bowie's re-appearance has given the exhibition a deserved boost - an impressively comprehensive and immersive exploration into the career of David Bowie.

Before entering the exhibition, visitors are handed a headset - made by sponsor Sennheiser - providing something of an intimate experience which contrasts the incredibly broad (and almost overwhelming) collection of costumes, posters, clips, and other memorabilia covering Bowie's earliest musical steps to his most recent efforts with 'The Next Day'.

The array of items on offer is quite astonishing and dazzling - and the variety of displays proves equally engaging. Whether looking through the peephole of a door or greeted by a multimedia installation, David Bowie is showcases its contents in a manner that sustains interest throughout. There are several different sections including Bowie's various personas/characters, his collaborations, his regular forays into acting, and more.

From David Jones to David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane, David Bowie is explores Bowie's transformative ability - also well showcased in his acting career, with clips from 'The Man Who Fell To Earth' and 2006's 'The Prestige', as well as letters and posters for the likes of 'Labyrinth'. The influence of film on Bowie's music is equally demonstrated with Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' and 'A Clockwork Orange' both making regular appearances around the exhibition.

The exhibition particularly excels with its vast selection of costumes, examining his longstanding collaborations with the likes of Kansai Yamamoto as well as more briefly held associations, such as with Alexander McQueen. Other highlights include an insight into Bowie's influences - a photo of Little Richard that Bowie himself owned highlighting the aura of theatricality and performance that was embraced and made his own - as well as his lyricism.

There is abundance of Bowie's handwritten lyrics dotted around David Bowie is but it is the feature on his Verbasizer that is most fascinating, a computer program Bowie co-designed to help inspire his lyric-writing. More knowledgeable fans may well be familiar with Bowie's songwriting methods but for newer fans, this intriguing approach whereby sentences are divided electronically may further demonstrate his status as a pioneer.

There are some shortcomings - the exhibition is expectedly hagiographic and perhaps some more analysis of Bowie's indiscretions would have been welcome. Statements made when Bowie was in his Thin White Duke phase were one of the foundations for the Rock Against Racism movement, for example. More practically speaking, the headset occasionally falters. However, it does prove particularly useful for one of the final sections of David Bowie is, which terrifically immerses visitors into a Bowie concert experience.

The exhibition is set to delight die-hard Bowie fans as well as those seeking more information about the legendary figure - having already sold out till May. Act fast before you miss out on a chance to see David Bowie is and delve deeper into a living icon's cultural history and legacy.


Find more info and purchase tickets at vam.ac.uk.

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