PHOTOGRAPHY LaQuann Dawson
As an occasional interviewer for the magazine Modern Painters, David Bowie expressed an intense interest in the process of artists—what inspired them; what they were trying to explore; above all, he wanted to learn how they became artists.
David Bowie Is, an exhibit celebrating the life and work of the renowned music legend, opened at the Brooklyn Museum two weeks ago. Like the icon it is dedicated to, the exhibit has been created not to simply venerate the final products of the musician’s labors, but to immerse visitors in Bowie’s process. The exhibit is as much a tribute to the things Bowie loved as it is to the man himself. Devoted to investigating how he became one of the most beloved rock stars of all time, David Bowie Is feels like walking inside someone else’s imagination.
Originally created by the illustrious Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the exhibit now arrives in what Bowie once deemed “…the city I had fantasized about in my teens.” Ever the man of deliberate intentions, this show, symbolically, was meant to match the trajectory of his career, beginning in London and ending in New York.
It’s as theatrical and full-sensory an experience as he would have wanted, taking us on a journey rich in both sound and vision. Equipped with a pair of headphones specially designed by Sennheiser, visitors listened to a range of archival interviews and musical selections that adapt in to the various artifacts located in the museum.
Wisely, the questions asked of Bowie in these archival interviews have been omitted. His answers are really all you have—as if he is the one personally guiding you through the exhibit.
Featured in this treasure trove of delights are the precise things a fan would wish to set their eyes on. Plenty of Bowie’s original costumes, including trademark classics such as Ziggy Stardust and Major Tom are on display; as well as less immediately recognizable outfits, like the 1920s European Cabaret style suit Bowie wore on SNL in 1979. There are original handwritten song lyrics, early drafts of sheet music and several hand drawn storyboards for failed movie projects and classic music videos. There is even a rarely seen video of David Bowie as a mime, long before he achieved fame.
Few artists have explored and incorporated as many influences into their art as Bowie did. Surrounded by the wealth of such varying artifacts as posters of Fritz Lang movies to Boy George Memorabilia to Kabuki Theater artwork, the museum’s collection makes an open and shut case of this claim. Between the artist and those he was influenced by and went on to influence, there is enough fascinating material to expand this into an entire museum unto itself.
Who David Bowie actually is, the museum suggests, is a staggering variety of things. Offering such answers as “ahead of himself,” “why we are what we are,” “using machine age knife magic and my personal favorite, “a tiger covered in Vaseline”. For an artist who championed and enjoyed people’s ability to interpret his music in any way they liked, it’s fitting that his persona(s) should be presented as multi-faceted. Even as David Bowie is invites us to glimpse behind the curtain, it doesn’t diminish Bowie’s mystique. If anything, it allows us greater awe for the breadth and effort of Bowie’s many, many accomplishments.