Five years, that’s all we’ve got. The “David Bowie Is…” exhibition has been traveling the world since it opened in London five years ago and it will be closing in New York mid-July. That was Bowie’s wishes, he wanted the two cities in his life to bookend the retrospective of his multi-media existence. All of “David Bowie Is…” is his wishes, it was on the road for three years before his death.
But it is hard to assess the exhibition for all its obvious skills because the space at the Brooklyn Museum was simply too busy. The actual management was excellent. You could arrive early and use your ticket to wander around the entire museum. I went with a group of friends with tickets for two different times (Standard tickets are timed every 15 minutes) and although the 215p was sold out they accommodated us with ease.
But the space was very warm (as Helen Bach noted, no air) and the space was very very crowded. Three deep to get a peak at Bowie’s three piece suit from from the “Life On Mars” video. Then there is the Sennheiser headphones (“for a complete audiovisual experience”) which changes audio wherever you are standing in the exhibition and which you’ll spend half your visit fiddling with as it goes silent every time you move.
I moved briskly and missed a lot and it still took me an hour to view and while everything I viewed was of some interest, nothing I viewed was exactly new to me. Sure, except for when Bowie wore them on tour, I had never been so close to his wardrobe (the biggest calling card here), since I am not an FIT student of fashion (Sade to me years and years ago: “Anybody interviewing me in a dollar tee-shirt covered in paint isn’t likely to get the New Romantics sense of style”) the interest is minimal.
So much of this stuff I’ve seen before I began to get a little frustrated. Back in 1975 I saw the excellent BBC documentary “Cracked Actor,” where he cut up the words to his lyrics and reassembled them to loosen his imagination , later he would create the Verbasizer, a machine to save on scissor wear and tear. This is a great idea and one Tomas Doncker uses on his upcoming Black Magnolia album, but what do I learn by looking at the machine itself?
The obvious comparison is with last year’s Rolling Stone’s exhibition (my review here) and the difference is that it was impossible to relax with Bowie and enjoy it, there were people everywhere and those damn cans were irritating as hell. I know Bowie’s career very well and saw him on stage quite a bit (I started late, 1979, but made up for it), in my book everything he did from Hunky Dory through Low is best in class), however I found the decision making in the exhibition a little strange.
So sure, I liked it, and if I get the chance I’ll go again. But what a headache.
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