An Expansive, Boundary-Blurring Exhibition In David Bowie is

at the Brooklyn Museum, NYC
Reviewed by Angelica Villa

Arranged in a matchless array of material from David Bowie’s archive, the Brooklyn Museum’s David Bowie is encapsulates the icon’s expansive complexity. The exhibition explores the breadth of visual and musical inventions and collaborations of the artist’s prolific career. Posing challenge to social convention and encouraging freedom of self-identification for several decades, the artist’s cultural relevance is beyond compare or distillation. Including 400 objects sourced from the musician’s archive, the interdisciplinary range of material showcasing album covers, drafts of handwritten lyrics, costumes, photographs, film and audio of Bowie’s career draw together a kaleidoscopic retrospective portrait of the artist’s many selves.

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Quilted two-piece suit, 1972. Designed by Freddie Burretti for the Ziggy Stardust tour. Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum
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Ice-blue suit, 1972. Designed by Freddie Burretti for the “Life on Mars?” video. Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum
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David Bowie, 1973. Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita. Copyright Sukita/The David Bowie Archive

The show’s ability to echo the collaborative energy and experimental grit, which permeated through the many phases of Bowie’s career, is perhaps the exhibition’s biggest success. A particular peak from the exhibition’s display of 60 custom-designed costumes is the highlight of the work of renowned designer Kansai Yamamoto, who dressed the artist to perform as his supernatural androgynous alter-ego Ziggy Stardust and later stage persona Aladdin Sane. Deeply influenced by Japanese theatrical design and its foundation in extravagance and nonconformity, Yamamoto’s influence in the 1970’s largely shaped the aesthetic foundation of some of Bowie’s most iconic moments. Additionally, the story of his 1996 Union Jack coat co-designed with Alexander McQueen also proves the essential role of fashion’s ruthlessness in the artist’s identity as a performer. After producing the commissioned design of the piece, McQueen distressed the flag-imaged fabric with force. The coat itself, a gesture of defiled iconography combined with Bowie’s personalization encompasses the designer and artist’s mutual play with brutality and freedom. These collaborations fit and fueled Bowie’s vanguard attitude. With an interest in transcending gender boundaries as well as combining and reimagining visual cultural references, Bowie’s work with Yamamoto and McQueen used the authority of clothes to intervene and disrupt the musical and performative landscape of the artist’s time.

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