There is a screening room in the exhibit where clips from Bowie’s iconic film appearances are screened in a 12-15 minute loop. While, yes, “Labyrinth” makes an appearance next to tonier fare like “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” and “The Prestige,” for some reason “The Linguini Incident” is not represented. Fans of Richard Shepard will be disappointed. A long scene from his primordial film appearance in 1967’s “The Image” is likely something not previously encountered by any but the most ardent of Bowiephiles. Elsewhere, his Broadway turn as John Merrick in “The Elephant Man” is given ample spotlight. It’s perhaps appropriate given that the notion of a rock star starring in a Broadway production in 1980 was fairly recherché.
Admittedly, the post 1980 era of the artiste was given less emphasis here. There are costumes aplenty from various media appearances and tours, but next to the Yamamoto masterpieces of the 70s, they fade into an indistinct blur. Surprisingly, Gail Ann Dorsey’s horse costume from the “Dead Man Walking” video is the only consume I remember seeing here that wasn’t one of Bowie’s. For all of its commercial impact, artifacts from the “Let’s Dance” era seemed to be thin on the ground. I can’t remember having seen much of those, if any. Astoundingly enough, of all of the Bowie disciples there are in the world, only video clips of Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp [watch this space] surface in this show.
While the exhibit started in a somewhat linear fashion before it began to branch as peripatetically as the artiste himself, at some point all things must end. The final room was a multimedia concert sequence with several full performances on video giving a powerful précis of Bowie the performer as he mutated forms over his long career. These were shown with full PA and at that point the headsets were no longer necessary Of particular note was a live performance of “Jean Genie” with a positively smoking Mick Ronson giving it loads, that stood as something that lodged in my brain for long days afterward. Finally, the last clip shown on the loop was of “Rock + Roll Suicide” as captured on the “Ziggy Stardust” movie for an appropriate coda to what had just been absorbed.
This exhibit is scheduled to run at the MCA in Chicago until January 2nd, after which it decamps to Paris, beginning on March 2nd, 2015. If in Chicago, it goes without saying, that anyone who chanced upon this blog more than once would do well to attend. Paris, Melbourne, and Groningen… you’re next. This one’s for us. The Victoria + Albert Museum have curated a show that successfully draws together a visual show that points out consistent themes that the artiste has been using his entire creative life. Whether a mime, a hippy, a mystic, a coke fiend, a pansexual, or a married man [with child], Bowie’s sought to build himself an existence from the artistic materials at hand, proving him a master synthesist over the last 70 years with few peers in the world of rock. That he quickly became a meta-influence on countless others points to his artistic success, particularly in his greatest decade of impact; the 1970s.
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