Nick and I finally got to see the long-awaited exhibit, David Bowie Is, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago over the weekend. With it's varied objects, GPS headphone accompaniment (the music and sound bites changed seamlessly as you walked through galleries), and fully engaging environment of spectacle, color and oddity, I highly recommend this show. (Photography was no allowed).
The chronological exhibit sweeps you through his early years in London, changing his name from "Davy Jones" (as it was already popularized by the member of The Monkees), to David Bowie (and later Ziggy Stardust and back to Bowie).
Trying to steer away from the existing social landscape, ("I didn't want to be a trend, I wanted to be the instigator of new ideas.") his collaborations resulted in fashion and beauty which would eclipse any standards of male attractiveness during that time. Influenced by rock, pop, jazz, punk, he created a culture through tangibles like his costumes and make up as well as intangibles, his androgynous sexuality which teen girls gravitated toward with no reservation during an era which glorified hyper masculine music figures. In one video the interviewer talks about how Stardust can afford a make up artist to paint silver on his nails while hoards of young girls are shown clamoring for the doors to the theater.
His journey into the pop/glam rock/psychedelic world of 1960s music is punctuated by numerous setbacks, reconfigurations and contemplation. At the height of his pseudo-identity Ziggy Stardust's success in 1973, he announced that the show would not only be the last of the tour, but the last of the band's existence. (In 1977 he made the statement "I've rocked my roll" when considering retirement). Mounted stage costumes, drawings, musings and writings, lyrics and music memorabilia are coupled with video, studio footage and interviews leaving you with a tidbit of each of Bowie's countless identities.
A few of the exhibition highlights include:
- A view into "space" as you watch Major Tom floating to Space Oddity
- The numerous costumes by fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto
- A small mug shot (when Bowie was arrested for possession of marijuana) is in one of the early galleries with costumes behind glass.
- A few oil paintings including a self-portrait from his time in Berlin. This gallery also boasts an exceptionally seamless video installation to painted motif in the room.
Bowie's presence in pop culture also crossed into experimental films in the 1960s and later mainstream movies such as Jim Henson's film, Labyrinth and The Prestige playing Nikola Tesla. For me, the paramount of the show is the last gallery, a pumping and pulsating mix of music matched by floor-to-ceiling screenshots, some with costumes silhouetted in light and film footage. Images pan back and forth from screen to screen interchanging with room-size projections. It was a club I didn't want to leave and a refreshing contrast to the hushed movement from room to room previously.
A few quick tips:
- Be deliberate in your direction as you wander through the rooms. There are small lines to see many of the objects and if you stand between areas, the sound will not match what you're viewing.
- I recommend reserving two hours to fully engage in the spectacle of the show and longer if you want to watch the entire loop of his movie clips.
- Purchase tickets in advance as they have been selling out daily.
David Bowie Is runs through January 4, 2015. Tickets are available here.