Monday, 27 May 2013

David Bowie is... dead?

I am coming to the end of two weeks of annual leave and have just returned from a trip back to London. While there I was fortunate enough to visit the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A museum (with friend and awesome upholsterer Louise Boyland). We spent nearly 90 minutes cavernous halls filled with the props, costumes, artwork and ephemera associated with the artist's forty-year career.

I left the show with a slight sense of being overwhelmed (in a good way, you understand). The exhibition is far bigger than any temporary collection I've ever seen before, filling three large rooms with some smaller spaces too. The sheer volume of material, most of which I presume Bowie himself has saved, is awesome. Many rooms feature multiple AV exhibits, and while the Sennheiser audio guides are clever, mine often cut-out for reasons best known to itself.

Although one gets the impression the curators have consciously tried to evade it, the reverence of the tone leads one to feel that Bowie is a dead saint. This struck home when I saw the tissue smeared with his lipstick saved from one of his shows. It sat in a cabinet beside items of his apparel, complete with description and date, like the finger bone of a saint.

The show is entitled David Bowie is... The name is spot-on. Although his fictional personas are explored in great detail, one comes no closer to getting any sense of exactly what kind of a person the real-life David Bowie is. The reflexive question is posed right at the start, when Bowie is quoted on his reception theory of art, that all meaning is in the eye of the beholder. In all likelihood the public will never know who he really is, and we'll be collecting his discarded tissues until he is resurrected.

Images from here, here and here

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