Tuesday, 16 April 2013

David Bowie is - The Victoria & Albert Museum

I went to see the 'David Bowie is' exhibition at the V&A yesterday and am jolly pleased I did. Anyone around my age will remember Mr Bowie from the early '70s, that alien life-form that appeared on Top of the Pops as Ziggy Stardust in 1972 singing about the 'Starman' who thought he'd blow our minds. Too late, Ziggy, you did and they stayed blown. And what a thrill it was to see your Ziggy suit in the flesh (so to speak) on a mannequin point out of the glass case at me.

The V&A exhibition is based on David's archives, his costumes and clothes over the last 40 years, hand-written lyrics, videos and memorabilia like his coke spoon and Berlin flat keys. It's a multimedia experience with touch and smell being the only senses denied. a giant video screen fills the wall of the penultimate room and that plays the 'lost' extended recording of 'The Jean Genie' from Top of the Pops all those years ago, David 100 feet tall and glorious in his electric power.

You don't get a ticket to the show, you get a sound recording to hang around your neck and earphones to listen to it all. I can see it, a sound n vision experience, I have a loathing for the audio-guide things so hung it round my neck and ignored it. I don't care what some anonymous voice is going to tell me, I want to see David's stuff. So I skipped the queue waiting to look in the peep holes at the start of the exhibition and threw myself into it properly.

It opens with David in the late '60s, his first attempts to be a pop star, the scene setting covers of books and records, most of which I by-passed and headed straight into the '70s and things I could recognise and that meant something to me. And there he was, Ziggy suit on a mannequin pointing at me, just as he'd done on Top of the Pops when he sang, 'So I picked on you-ou-ou' and pointed into the camera.  That's when the alien landed and he wasn't going to leave us alone. Ever.

Photographs, mannequins in costumes, hand-written lyrics with crossings out and replacement words, video screens, notes about recording sessions, photos I've never seen, notes from others to David (such as a note from Jim Henson about the early script for 'Labyrinth') and a wonderful host of other things. Different versions of the cover for the latest album, 'The Next Day' including one based on the 'Aladdin Sane' album cover. Stage sets for various tours, tour costumes and suits worn off stage.

Favourites were his Ziggy suit (of course), his distressed 'Earthling' Union Jack coat and his brocade McQueen frock coats, the lyrics to 'Starman', the contact sheet for the 'Diamond Dogs' photoshoot, his pierrot costume for 'Ashes To Ashes', the Berlin room and the enormous video wall. The astonishing thing is the attention to detail for everything over the last 40 years. Such a mind that could encompass it all, understand it all and link it all. And make it reality.

It's an excellent exhibition and I'd encourage everyone to go to it. Bowie has been in our lives forever and influenced virtually everybody in one way or another. The only downside to the exhibition is that the first series of rooms are so small that they get terribly crowded, particularly with people queueing to look through the peepholes (I didn't bother). The lighting could also be set to brighter in a few places. But, on the whole, it's an exciting experience and you'd do well to see it while you can.

Y'know what? David Bowie is.


Anonymous said...

I am afraid you totally missed out by not using the audio guide. There was no anonymous voice telling you anything, it was actually Bowie's own voice (they had a lot of his interviews etc played over at various parts of exhibition) and most importantly, sound to all the videos that were playing on big and small screens. Literally sound to every screen - they were recognising by your location in front of what part of exhibition you were and play the sound accordingly. So in the last hall with giant screens you could have your own massive concert (actually 3 of them). I honestly don't understand how you could've done without that. Maybe next time you should be more adventurous and at least give audio guides a try so you don't miss something as exciting as it was.

Anonymous said...

"So I skipped the queue waiting to look in the peep holes at the start of the exhibition and threw myself into it properly."

Remind me never to go anywhere with you. Dolt.