After much anticipation, I finally got to the extremely popular ‘Bowie is’ exhibition at the V&A London. In reality it showcases a fraction of Bowie’s out put, his early years are well covered but after the shock and awe of the 1970’s, the mid to late 80’s are thin on the ground, and of the 90’s only Outside sees much prominence. There is little here that the seasoned fan won’t already know, but it certainly is novel to seeBowie’s own sketches, handwritten notes and actual stage and video costumes- although I do wish these had been better lit in some cases. (They didn’t have wigs either- which is odd because Bowie’s hairstyles were as much part of the character as the clothes.) The huge original gatefold artwork for Scary Monsters was an unexpected high point. (As teenager I once tried to recreate this outfit- but I wound up looking like Gary Numan crossed with Sat in Your Lap Kate Bush).
My favourite room was dedicated to Bowie’s Berlin years with Eno, Fripp and Iggy. I enjoyed the video installation, the text on what ‘Bowie is’ at this time, and his own German expressionist style paintings of ‘Jim’. The music from this era is emotional and questioning with a timeless eerie resonance – I’m glad it warranted its own quiet corner. However had I been curating perhaps later related albums, like Buddha of Suburbia, Outside and even Heathen would have been featured somewhere near here too.
Fundamentally I found it weird to have this retrospective for someone who is (thankfully) still alive and creative. Ultimately, I felt a little underwhelmed by the exhibition experience. Had I missed something? Like going to church to find God not in it. All those mannequins in costume, but not one of them moved. Perhaps I’d hoped that this exhibit might make up for the fact that I have never been to a Bowie Gig, (and great as they were, Jean Genie don’t count) and it’s one of my biggest regrets.
I will almost certainly never ‘meet’ David Bowie, but what this exhibition taught me is that Bowie is not about touching relics. Bowie is an ephemeral ever changing idea of an artist. Bowie is not ‘outside’ it seems,Bowie is something I’ve internalised, an integral part of myself.
‘Bowie is’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum London until 11th Aug 2013 – And if you are travelling any kind of distance Pre-booking is essential. Check out the exhibition website for booking details and some amazing online resources by clicking here.