The New “David Bowie Is” Exhibit at the MCA in Chicago, is a Kaleidoscopic Multi-Media Retrospective of the Living Legend’s Career that has Spanned Five Decades By Steve V. Rodriguez

Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973 Photograph by Brian Duffy Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive

Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973
Photograph by Brian Duffy
Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive

As a child of the 70’s and a teenager in the 80’s, my earliest memories of David Bowie were of his 80’s hit, “Let’s Dance”, which although a classic, followed an enormously eclectic and influential body of work of the previous decades. Sure I new the infamous, “Changes” and had seen a few images of the early glam rock days – bright red hair and outlandish costumes, but now that I’ve seen the exhibition, “David Bowie Is”, at the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum in Berlin, I am now convinced of this living legend’s significant and provocative contributions to music, film, live theater, painting and fashion. The brilliance of this new exhibition, which runs from May 20th – August 3rd, is that for those who grew up with Bowie, they will indulge in their iconic hero, while gaining insight as to what made Bowie tick over the years, while newer generations will see an artist who has challenged and questioned the systems and culture in power,  through his thought provoking multi-dimensional art form, and that before Madonna or Lady Gaga, there was, and is Bowie.

EXHIBIT

Original lyrics for "Ziggy Stardust" by David Bowie, 1972 Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive Image @Victoria and Albert Museum

Original lyrics for “Ziggy Stardust” by David Bowie, 1972 Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive Image @Victoria and Albert Museum

The David Bowie exhibit, which began at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and is curated by Geoffrey Marsh and Victoria Broackes also made stops in Toronto and Sao Paulo, before heading to Berlin. Having a run in Berlin is significant due to Bowie’s late 70’s move to Berlin from Los Angeles, where he was heavily influence by the culture of the city, which inspired a trilogy of albums: “Low” , “Heroes” (both 1977), and “Lodger” (1979). This would have also been the period in Berlin where the city was divided during the Cold War. The international exhibit will have its only U.S. stop in Chicago at MCA, September 23, 2014 – January 4, 2015th.

The exhibit,  which doesn’t necessarily fall prey to a linear retrospective, instead has the viewer weaving through a pseudo psychedelic path, that explores the personal and public life,  and personas of Bowie. Since the headsets are free and included with your ticket entry, you’ll definitely want to grab a pair as they seem to magically ignite at the turn of a corner, often playing interviews with the artist, music performances, scenes from films,  and virtually every music video is played in one room, where viewers can stand on a large dot,  which corresponds to a television screen launching a series of famous and more obscure music videos. Standout multi-media clips include an early short called “The Mask”, which has the artist, David Jones, before he became David Bowie,  performing a mime act that’s both endearing and foreshadows later Bowie personas like Ziggy Stardust, or his prolific acting career. Interviews where Bowie reflects on his writing process, and talks about a program he used called the Verbalizer,  in the 90’s,  that chopped up words into sentences and rearranged them into new phrases are fascinating. The program helped spark new songs for the artist. Many will remember the infamous SNL performance in 1979,  where Bowie donned a plastic quasi-tuxedo suit that encased the artist, while he sang “The Man Who Sold the World”. In this performance he was backed by Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias. Later, Nomi, was so impressed by the suit that he had one made for himself, showing how artist influenced artist. One of the largest rooms of the exhibit features the largest multi-media video landscape of Bowie performing a kaleidoscope of legendary performances that consume the room. All one can do is stand back and indulge in the brilliance of the artist.

INFLUENCES

Stage set model for the Diamond Dogs tour, 1974 Designed by Jules Fisher and Mark Ravitz Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

Stage set model for the Diamond Dogs tour, 1974
Designed by Jules Fisher and Mark Ravitz
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

Like many pop artists of their time,  “David Bowie” sheds light on the tremendous amount of people, artists, writers, science fiction, cities, politics and more that influenced the artist to fearlessly create his own stories and art form.  From Andy Warhol to George Orwell’s book, “1984”, which influences can be seen in the set of Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs Tour”, it’s these and so many more, including over 300 objects by Bowie, which have been culminated,  and are part of the treasures viewers will discover regarding the eclectic and multi-faceted influences, which were reflected at various times within the artist’s work. Click on the image for larger viewing.

FASHION

One can’t talk about Bowie and not spend time reflecting on the continuous reinvention of looks and personas that were all created through his otherworldly sense of fashion and style. Bowie has worked with some of the greatest designers of our time like Freddie Burretti, Kansai Yamamoto and Alexander McQueen. Take a look at the myriad of Bowie’s looks below that can be seen up close and personal in the exhibit.

IMPACT

“David Bowie” will awaken your senses on so many levels, while shedding an enlightening view on a living artist. The subject’s many influences, at times, are as invigorating as the subject himself. Through Bowie’s fascination with man and space, through his created character, Ziggy Stardust, into his reflection on a dark and controlled dystopian world, audiences will be immersed into a part of Bowie’s extensive mind and career. Viewers are left with an understanding of a man who was highly influenced by great thinkers and artists, and culminated these influences into his own art. Bowie was inspired to become one of the greatest living pop icons of our time, and hopefully will inspire viewers to reflect, and be inspired to create or think in new capacities. Upon leaving the exhibit, I made a list of books, artists, music and film that were associated with Bowie, but have inspired myself to create my future reality. It is this type of art exhibit, that is truly powerful, which can remain in our thoughts days after viewing, and promote our own growth both small and large.

“David Bowie Is” will make it’s only U.S. premiere at MOMA in Chicago from September 23 – January 4, 2015. Visit: www2.mcachicago.org/exhibition/david-bowie-is

Take a look at a very early video of “The Mask”, as David Jones plays a mime character that was made in 1969. You can also see one of his current singles, “Where Are We Now”, from his 2013 album, “The Next Day”, which was shot in Berlin, while sampling that album below. Also on September 23rd you can catch the documentary, “David Bowie Is” in selected theaters around the country at 7:00pm! Cities include Berkeley, San Francisco and DC. For more information about the documentary visit:  target=”_blank”>http://www.omniversevision.com/davidbowieis.html