Everybody deserves an escape, and my recent annual leave took me to London, a city where men know how to wear a suit with style. It is also the city of David Bowie _ the man whose persona seems to tease and provoke the boundaries of gender and whose five-decade career is one of the most spectacular in the music industry.
When the Victoria and Albert Museum launched the tickets online for the groundbreaking "David Bowie Is" exhibition, they sold like hot cakes. Around 50,000 were booked in advance and the only way to get tickets from now until the last day of the exhibition (Aug 11) is to wait in line from the moment the museum opens, when 450 tickets are available per day. I took my chance queuing up and I was one lucky man when the crowds turned out to be thin! After an hour in line, the ticket was finally in my hands.
I am a 90s kid and one of the first albums I listened to was Madonna's Ray Of Light. Admittedly I knew very little about David Bowie but I'd heard some of his songs and was aware of his reputation. Someone once said that everything that Lady Gaga has done, Bowie did decades before. And this exhibition proves that he is a genius way ahead of his time.
For this show, the V&A partnered with global fashion brand Gucci, while leading audio company Sennheiser provided the sound system. Upon arrival, I was given a pair of headphones, a gizmo which lifted the show to another level. Wherever you are inside the exhibition hall, the audio system will automatically play the information for whatever is in front of you. Given that there are more than 300 objects from lyric sheets and original costumes to films and photographs, you need at least an hour to enjoy the exhibition.
Guests are welcomed by a large image of the gender-bending rock star in his striking "Tokyo Pop" bodysuit designed by Kansai Yamamoto, the maverick Japanese designer who created a number of Bowie's costumes. This quirky, flared black vinyl number was sported by Bowie during his 1973 Aladdin Sane tour.
The first room introduces us to the early career of the young blond and wiry Bowie, or David Robert Jones as he was back then. Each room has its own sound-track and in the first room, Can't Help Thinking About Me, which he wrote in 1965, is my favourite. This was followed by a look at Bowie's discography in which visitors can learn about his songwriting talent. Ever the experimentalist, Bowie once devised special software that rearranged the words he had written to create his lyrics.
The most fascinating room, however, is the one devoted to his costumes, artworks and his alter-egos. In addition to music and acting, Bowie is also a well-rounded artist, involved in everything from designing the sets for his global tours to painting Expressionist canvases. One of the major factors behind why this exhibition has turned out marvellously is that Bowie worked closely with its organisers.
Besides Yamamoto, Thierry Mugler and the late Alexander McQueen, many young designers have also created sartorial masterpieces for Bowie, an artist who has constantly reinvented himself while toying with our perceptions of masculinity and feminity.
One of the most awe-inspiring videos in this room is Bowie's performance of The Man Who Sold The World on Saturday Night Live in 1979. If you have never seen it, Google it! After watching this video I understand why many people used to say: "We've seen it all in the 70s". I can't believe this was made decades ago. Lady Gaga, I love you, but you're a bit too late. Bowie nailed it a long time ago!
Among many aspects of Bowie's career, his "Ziggy Stardust" persona introduced him as an androgynous artist. While Elvis Presley used make-up to accentuate his good looks in a masculine way (yes, I learned Elvis wore make-up from this exhibition), in his early 70s glam rock phase, Bowie wore make-up, sequins and feather boas and his fans loved the look and copied it.
The "Black and White" room is dedicated to his life in Berlin in the late 70s. Bowie left Los Angeles in 1976 and headed to Berlin to overcome his drug addiction as well as to return to one of his passions _ painting.
The then divided city inspired him deeply and the Berlin period, between 1977 and 1979, witnessed three of Bowie's best albums _ Low, Heroes and Lodger. During this time he also produced a pair of albums for Iggy Pop, the former lead singer with The Stooges, with whom he shared a flat above a garage in the southwest part of the city.
"David Bowie Is" gave me goose-bumps from the very first minute. He definitely epitomises the word "artist", although in fact you could say that he is beyond labels.
He is a singer, an actor and a poet. A rock legend who once donned a one-shoulder bodysuit and emblazoned a lightning streak across his face.
The first rock star to proclaim his gayness in 1972, while two decades later he married Somali supermodel Iman.
If I have to put in the blank space what David Bowie is, I would say David Bowie is "living art".
About the author
- Writer: Yanapon Musiket
Position: Life Writer