The Man Who Fell To The V&A
Even the press view of the David Bowie retrospective at the Victoria & Albert Museum was mobbed. I was told 600 of us were turning up to bump into each other while trying to photograph every one of the 300 exhibits that have been assembled for this astonishing show, which is being presented “In partnership with Gucci” (which means the Italians stumped up a hell of a lot of cash, I presume). Did I read that 30,000 or was it 40,000 tickets have already been sold? So it’s a good job it’s running until August 11.
The official title of the exhibition is David Bowie is and throughout the several rooms this lavish production occupies that sentence is completed with all manner of statements, some of which are easier to decipher than others. Here I show two sides of one of the souvenir postcards with a paper band around it; Bowie’s striped bodysuit from the Aladdin Sane tour of 1973 was designed by Kansai Yamamoto.
The V&A’s Theatre and Performance curators, Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh, were given unprecedented access to the David Bowie Archive (note the important capital A) which includes a vast range of objects, including the nameplate of the Brixton street in which David Robert Jones was born on January 8 1947,
a publicity still for his early band in 1963
and a form for an ad in the actors’ directory Spotlight shortly after he’d made an uncredited appearance in the 1969 British film The Virgin Soldiers.
Every visitor to the exhibition will be given a head set, courtesy of sponsor Sennheiser, through which to hear a fascinating “sound experience” and narration to accompany the exhibits. The soundtrack plays automatically as you move round the show.
This neon sign and the door beneath it are two of the early variations on the David Bowie is theme.
The installation features a quilted suit designed by Freddie Burretti for the Ziggy Stardust tour of 1972 against a large screen playing Star Man as performed on Top of the Pops on July 5 1972. Burretti , who died in 2001, also designed the next three suits:
as seen on the cover of Pin Ups (1973);
The Life On Mars video (1973)
and the Diamond Dogs promo shots and tour (1974). The last two are featured in my book, Sharp Suits, which gives over four pages to celebrate Bowie the suit-wearer.
This number was designed for the Serious Moonlight tour of 1983 by Peter J Hall.
I took this photo at the Milton Keynes Bowl concert on that tour; it was not what you’d call an intimate gig.
Nearly 30 years later, I got a better view of the concert on the very big screen at the V&A.
David Bowie is in more fancy tailoring in this last exhibit of the show, which is placed appropriately next to the exit. Once you have handed your headset back, you arrive in the Bowie shop, which is full of a vast range of merchandise ranging from plectrums to posters. I could not resist, at £35, the 320-page hardback book that complements the show and includes images of many of the exhibits – including close-up shots of the clothes – and is packed with text on the great man,
David Bowie is on the front cover as Aladdin Sane (1973) (photo by Brian Duffy) and in a 1995 persona on the back cover (photo by Garth Evans). All in all, this is a tremendous retrospective worthy of such an influential figure. The big question at the press view was: will Bowie bother to show up at the show?
Sign up for The Musgrave Manifesto
- The Place London Men’s
- Croots England. Made in Yorkshire. Seen at Pitti Uomo 91
- Christopher Raeburn for Save The Duck at Pitti Uomo 91
- Z Zegna at Pitti Uomo 91
- Johnstons of Elgin at Pitti Uomo 91
- PS by Paul Smith at Pitti Uomo 91
- Pitti Uomo hits 91 not out