Shade Rupe’s post mortem on the “David Bowie Is” exhibit in Chicago:
A cause célèbre for art, film and design institutions everywhere, with breaking attendance records, the Victoria & Albert—curated “Davie Bowie Is” exhibition is a marvel of closeness that zillions of fans through the decades never believed they’d be able to experience. In 1983 when D.A. Pennebaker’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was finally released we could squint through the reddish grain while our alien lord pranced and rocked the stage through multiple costume changes, mime, sucking off Mick Ronson’s… guitar, and admonishing his wife Angie’s makeup suggestions with “What do you know about makeup? You’re just a girl.” But this is different.
Debuting in Paris this month at the Philharmonie de Paris/ Cité de la Musique before then continuing to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands later in the year, the collection of costumes, outfits, memorabilia, and detritus, is vast as this is only a sampling of what the curators chose after Bowie opened his closets. Bowie’s self-application of color and cream is apparent with even a tissue that once blotted his lipstick is carefully displayed.
For Brits the ‘big moment’ was the “Starman” reveal on Top of the Pops, a moment given further clarity with a crew member shot backup film. While many English teenagers first got gobsmacked by that moment, even younger Americans were similarly blown away after over a decade of Bowie’s starring bursts when he premiered his devastatingly electric art moments during his December 15, 1979, Saturday Night Live performances with Joey Arias and Klaus Nomi on backup for scorching renditions of “The Man Who Sold the World” (in a Hugo Ball—inspired hourglass-shaped tuxedo), “TVC15” (in a school marm’s green dress with Arias and Nomi fending off a pink poodle with a TV in its mouth), and “Boys Keep Swinging,” with a Silly Putty—bodied Bowie unfurling a plastic penis, twice (though only shown on the first broadcast). Both programs make up significant parts of the exhibit.
Scary Monsters unleashed the final throes of Bowie’s magnificent more-than-a-decade of blowing Earth’s minds before settling down with that album that can’t be named (and thankfully is left out of the exhibition entirely). The next decade is skipped until we encounter Floria Sigismondi’s music videos (she’s created four for the Master in total) for “Little Wonder” and “Dead Man Walking.”
Other highlights of the exhibit, beyond getting to get ::this close:: to the Starman’s magic clothing include a gift of a test pressing of the first Velvet Underground album, bequeathed to Bowie’s manager Kenneth Pitt by Andy Warhol then to Bowie who exclaimed “By the time ‘European Son’ was done I was so excited I couldn’t move,” the keys to the underground bunker Bowie shared with Iggy Pop in Berlin which resulted in this writer’s own desert island disc The Idiot, and the Thin White Duke’s trusty cocaine spoon giving the man who fell to earth’s Diamond Dogs tour that extra bit of futuristic oomph.