David Bowie is Forever
The David Bowie Is exhibition has traveled the world, most recently in Tokyo, where it shed light on the Starman who changed the world.
March 03, 2017
The David Bowie Is exhibition is a spectacular feat that is equally sentimental and factual: a comprehensive catalogue raisonnee of David Bowie’s work seen through the perspective of his various costumes and characters. It is the costumes that lead us through the history of his work and the immense repertoire of not only music but also writing, art, and performance. In his work, you can pull together his life, his unique sense of style, and his vision. In his vision, the first thing that comes through is that of someone who really cared about the human condition and the world that we live in—his music was never about protest but was relevant to the times, capturing the concerns of those moments and making him relevant at that time as well as for future generations to reflect on.
The exhibition is a sensorial immersion into his work: an experiential journey, as you are given a set of headphones that are sensitive to your location so that your exploration of his world is accompanied by Bowie’s music and voice. You move through the space and hear his voice as if he is talking to you—something made more powerful as he is no longer with us. In a way, he talks you through the show, making it intimate despite the swarms of people surrounding you: among his works, David Bowie is present.
The show welcomes you into the David Bowie universe, opening it up and giving you a glimpse of where Starman, Space Oddity, and Ziggy Stardust came from. It was 1971, two years after Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Watching the performance that was staged on Top of the Pops that year, with Bowie clad in the orange jumpsuit and Ziggy Stardust makeup, it becomes clear how this man came to define a generation and inspire those that came after—they say the ’70s started with that performance. Then we meet Major Tom, the astronaut who appears again later in the decade as a lonely drug addict in need of help. The albums are worlds in themselves; ones that Bowie created. The meticulous attention to detail Bowie had as an artist quickly became apparent. Bowie understood that the manner in which he presented himself on stage and on an album cover was part of a vision that he was involved in every step of the way.
Bowie was sensitive to the world around him, and he had an openness to the way in which he worked, with a complete lack of boundaries adding to his ability to morph and change. Early in his life, he became interested in Buddhism, and this too made its way into his work. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis had a profound influence on him, and the city for his Diamond Dogs tour, “Hunger City”, featured elements of Lang’s masterpiece. In the music video to “The Man Who Sold the World”, Bowie performed in a sculptural costume reminiscent of the costumes seen in circuses of another time: here he performs with Klaus Nomi and Jaime Arias, mimes he saw performing in the Fiorucci shop window.
Bowie’s costumes were never short of remarkable, including the wearable sculptures by Kanzai Yamamoto, a frequent collaborator who created the most iconic Bowie costumes, from Ziggy Stardust’s jumpsuit to the jumpsuit with the billowing legs. He performed in these. Then there was a young Alexander McQueen, who made many of Bowie’s costumes in the ’90s. He collaborated often, and with his frequent collaborators (like the producer Tony Visconti), they became his best friends. Visconti mentioned in an interview that the working relationship was working with a genius—he was very exact in his words as well as his work. Bowies list of collaborators were extensive: everyone from John Lennon and Mick Jagger to Lou Reed, Gus Van Sant, and Mick Rock.
Today, when we consider the progress we have made in breaking down walls, only to build them back up again (let’s not talk about the wall in the USA: it’s dire), we look back to the 1986 concert that Bowie played in Berlin by that infamous wall (from an old NHK clip). In the city that he called home for three years (where he made his Berlin Trilogy that marked his black and white period), Bowie strategically placed the speakers so that they were facing the crowds gathered on the other side of the wall rather than the audience before him. As we know, the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 along with a crumbling ideology. Upon David Bowie’s death last year, the German government gave a tribute to him declaring, “Thank you David Bowie for helping us to bring down the wall. You are with the Heroes now.” And yes indeed, he is our hero and David Bowie is Forever.