Wednesday, 20 March 2013

David Bowie Rocks!

I've attended quite a few press previews at the V&A but never experienced today's media frenzy with TV crews all over the place and such a strong sense of excitement. This is the first international retrospective of the extraordinary career of David Bowie, an iconic figure and musical innovator who continues to inspire others. 

Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973. Photograph by Brian Duffy  © Duffy Archive

Handwritten lyrics, original costumes, Bowie's own instruments and album artwork are just some of the many objects brought together for the first time at the V&A. But as the curators Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh mentioned this morning, this exhibition goes beyond the showcase of images and costumes to create a multi-layered experience of sound and vision. 

"We wanted to bring the ground-breaking nature of David Bowie into the exhibition and leave the question about who he is open to interpretation." Victoria Broackes

David Bowie is,  © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

In 1969, BBC plays 'Space Oddity' over footage of the moon landing, a song about an austronat lost in space and a pun on Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. This breakthrough moment was followed by a pivotal performance on BBC's Top of the Pops in 1972, when Bowie has conquered the world with his flame-orange hair, make-up, multi-coloured clothing and sexual ambiguity. 

The exhibition features the original suit and boots created for this appearance on national television by Freddie Burretti and designed in collaboration with Bowie, who took inspiration from the costumes worn by the 'droogs' street gang in Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange.

Striped bodysuit for Aladdin Sane tour. Design by Kansai Yamamoto.
Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita. 
© Sukita/ David Bowie Archive 2012

Throughout his career, he has worked with many fashion designers to create his own style such as Hedi Slimane, Thierry Mugler, Issey Miyake and Kansai Yamamoto. One of the fashion highlights of this exhibition is the original Alexander McQueen Union Jack coat worn on the Earthling album cover (1997).

But fashion is only one of the many fields where Bowie has actively sought collaborations. From his music to album covers, stage sets and his pioneering music videos, he has worked with a wide range of artists, photographers and designers to realise his vision, finding new ways of pursuing freedom of expression.

The Archer Station to Station tour, 1976. Photograph by John Reynolds© John Robert Reynolds 

Bowie's evocative narratives were fuelled by his intelligence, creativity and knowledge. Cultural references serve either as a backdrop or a turning point in his work: from Oscar Wilde and Stanley Kubrick to George Orwell, whose novel Nineteen Eighty-Four has inspired the dystopian cityscape aesthetic of Diamond Dogs rock tour in 1974.

"All art is at once surface and symbol... It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors." Oscar Wilde

This is what sets Bowie apart, his ability to channel avant-garde influences into music and performances with mass appeal. If you listen to today's lyrics of top selling stars there's hardly any depth to them. Maybe this need to hear people who actually have something to say has contributed to the phenomenal global response to Bowie's 2013 album The Next Day

Kate Moss as David Bowie for Vogue Paris and Jean Paul Gaultier SS13 catwalk show

Much has been written about Bowie's creative projection of himself through acting, play, imagination, costume and make-up but maybe this was his way of being authentic. He kept challenging our need to fixate and label others by always reinventing himself and thinking outside the box. How can you define the movements of a dance?  

"All art is unstable. Its meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author. There is no authoritative voice. There are only multiple readings." David Bowie 

Alexandra Shulman's favourite British Vogue cover and Gucci AW 12-13 catwalk show
(Frida Gianinni, Gucci Creative Director, said David Bowie is one of her greatest inspirations.) 

David Bowie Is
In partnership with Gucci
V&A, 23 March - 11 August 2013  

Other related blog posts:
Philip Glass: Music Artist
Couture for Music Stars
Shoot for the Stars! Designers & Showbiz