From 23 March to 11 August, 2013 the Victoria & Albert Museum will give unprecedented access to the David Bowie Archive, for the first international retrospective of the extraordinary career of David Bowie – one of the most pioneering and influential performers of modern times. David Bowie is will explore the creative processes of Bowie as a musical innovator and cultural icon, tracing his shifting style and sustained reinvention across five decades.
The V&A’s Theatre and Performance curators, Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh have selected more than 300 objects that will be brought together for the very first time. They include handwritten lyrics, original costumes, fashion, photography, film, music videos, set designs, Bowie’s own instruments and album artwork.
The exhibition will explore the broad range of Bowie’s collaborations with artists and designers in the fields of fashion, sound, graphics, theatre, art and film. On display will be more than 300 objects including Ziggy Stardust bodysuits (1972) designed by Freddie Burretti, photography by Brian Duffy; album sleeve artwork by Guy Peellaert and Edward Bell; visual excerpts from films and live performances including The Man Who Fell to Earth, music videos such as Boys Keep Swinging and set designs created for the Diamond Dogs tour (1974). Alongside these will be more personal items such as never-before-seen storyboards, handwritten set lists and lyrics as well as some of Bowie’s own sketches, musical scores and diary entries, revealing the evolution of his creative ideas.
David Bowie is
V&A South Kensington
From 23 March to 23 August 2013
Tel. +44 (0)20 7942 2000
David Bowie is widely regarded as one of the most influential writers of pop music. Born David Jones, he changed his name to Bowie in the 1960s, to avoid confusion with the then well-known Davy Jones (lead singer of The Monkees).
The 1960s were not a happy period for Bowie, who remained a struggling artist, awaiting his breakthrough. He dabbled in many different styles of music (without commercial success), and other art forms such as acting, mime, painting, and playwriting. He finally achieved his commercial breakthrough in 1969 with the song “Space Oddity,” which was released at the time of the moon landing. Despite the fact that the literal meaning of the lyrics relates to an astronaut who is lost in space, this song was used by the BBC in their coverage of the moon landing, and this helped it become such a success. The album, which followed “Space Oddity,” and the two, which followed (one of which included the song “The Man Who Sold The World,” covered by Lulu and Nirvana) failed to produce another hit single, and Bowie’s career appeared to be in decline. However, he made the first of many successful “comebacks” in 1972 with “Ziggy Stardust,” a concept album about a space-age rock star. This album was followed by others in a similar vein, rock albums built around a central character and concerned with futuristic themes of Armageddon, gender dysfunction/confusion, as well as more contemporary themes such as the destructiveness of success and fame, and the dangers inherent in star worship. In the mid 1970s, Bowie was a heavy cocaine abuser and sometime heroin user. In 1975, he changed tack. Musically, he released “Young Americans,” a soul (or plastic soul as he later referred to it) album. This produced his first number one hit in the US, “Fame.” He also appeared in his first major film, L’uomo che cadde sulla Terra (1976). With his different-colored eyes and skeletal frame, he certainly looked the part of an alien. The following year, he released “Station to Station,” containing some of the material he had written for the soundtrack to this film (which was not used). As his drug problem heightened, his behavior became more erratic. Reports of his insanity started to appear, and he continued to waste away physically. He fled back to Europe, finally settling in Berlin, where he changed musical direction again and recorded three of the most influential albums of all time, an electronic trilogy with Brian Eno “Low, Heroes and Lodger.” Towards the end of the 1970s, he finally kicked his drug habit, and recorded the album many of his fans consider his best, the Japanese-influenced “Scary Monsters.” Around this time, he played the Elephant Man on Broadway, to considerable acclaim.
The next few years saw something of a drop-off in his musical output as his acting career flourished, culminating in his acclaimed performance in Furyo (1983). In 1983, he recorded “Let’s Dance,” an album which proved an unexpected massive commercial success, and produced his second number 1 hit single in the US. The tour which followed, “Serious Moonlight,” was his most successful ever. Faced with this success on a massive scale, Bowie apparently attempted to “repeat the formula” in the next two albums, with less success (and to critical scorn). Finally, in the late 1980s, he turned his back on commercial success and his solo career, forming the hard rock band, Tin Machine, who had a deliberate limited appeal. By now, his acting career was in decline. After the comparative failure of Labyrinth (1986), the movie industry appears to have decided that Bowie was not a sufficient name to be a lead actor in a major movie, and since that date, most of his roles have been cameos or glorified cameos. He himself also seems to have lost interest in movie acting. Tin Machine toured extensively and released two albums, with little critical or commercial success.
In 1992, Bowie again changed direction and re-launched his solo career with “Black Tie White Noise,” a “wedding” album inspired by his recent marriage to Iman. To date, the 1990s have been kinder to Bowie than the late 1980s. He has released three albums to considerable critical acclaim and reasonable commercial success. In 1995, he renewed his working relationship with Brian Eno to record “Outside.” After an initial hostile reaction from the critics, this album has now taken its place with his classic albums.
In 2003, David released an album entitled ‘Reality.’ The Reality Tour began in November 2003 and, after great commercial success, was extended into July 2004. In June 2004, David suffered a heart attack and the tour did not finish it’s scheduled run. Reality is David’s last tour and album to date. After recovering, David has not released any new music, but did a little acting. In 2006, he played Tesla in The Prestige (2006) and had a small cameo in the series “Extras” (2005). In 2007, he did a cartoon voice in “SpongeBob SquarePants” (1999) playing Lord Royal Highness. He has not appeared in anything since 2008 and stays home in New York with his wife and daughter. Bowie has influenced the course of popular music several times and influenced several generations of musicians. His promotional videos in the 1970s and 80s are regarded as ground-breaking, and as a live concert act, he is regarded as the most theatrical of them all.