The art exhibit to see in the fall of 2014 in Chicago must be David Bowie Is at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The hype machine behind this almost two million dollar exhibit has been nothing less than colossal, making this the most talked about art installation of the season. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared September 23, 2014 “David Bowie Day’” to celebrate the Windy City opening of the elusive art-rocker’s expansive archive. The title itself David Bowie Is a purposely unfinished sentence, which leaves the eager lines of viewers to make up their own minds about the impact both personally and professionally of the celebrated subject. David Bowie is….a pioneer, avant-garde, a poet, a chameleon, a boundary-pushing performance artist, an androgynous sexual icon, an attention whore, or none/all of the above.
This exhibit celebrates a one of a kind British talent with a dazzling, whirlwind of over 400 personal mementos and a throng of mannequins dressed in the vintage costumes of Bowie’s many personas, most famous Ziggy Stardust. Using the MCA headphones to navigate both sight and sound while walking through the exhibit is a must. The spectator hears, recorded in Bowie’s own voice, the comprehensive stories of his journey from shy British teen to international cultural icon. Originally born David Jones, then renamed Bowie, we follow his illustrious career, chronologically, throughout the exhibit. There are insights into his early years as a musician in London and chronicles how he was inspired by innovations in art and music in the aftermath of World War II Europe.
The exhibit examines Bowie’s creative process from poetry to song writing, recording and producing to designing costumes, stage sets and album artwork. From his early personal influences of Little Richard’s over the top stage antics, to his fascination with Surrealism, Brechtian theater, avant-gard mime (a video piece that must be seen to be believed), German Expressionism and Japanese Kabuki performance art and costumes. Some of the exhibit’s rich highlights include handwritten lyrics to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” nestled among all of his album covers, the government letter confirming his official name change from David Jones to David Bowie, a circa-1974 tissue blotted with Bowie’s own lipstick, the stage costume from his 1979 Saturday Night Live rendition of “The Man Who Sold the World,” & original Bowie concert posters, set pieces, out of this world fashion, and performance material from the past five decades of Bowie’s work. Most notoriously, his cocaine spoon displayed too. Bowie was a product of his ever-evolving, sometimes self-indulgent times.
David Bowie once said “all art is unstable” which one can certainly sense by meandering through the many rooms of the expansive exhibit. Making your way through the winding and stunning look into Bowie’s life and cultural impact, my personal favorite display was a mirrored “Top of the Pops” stage that has been fashioned as a environment to house his most famous Ziggy Stardust costume, while his live performance plays on a loop behind the mannequin. Platform heel boots ensconced in glass display cases decades before the Spice Girls made them popular again. Lady Gaga would go goo-goo at these outfits, a celebration of just another of Bowie’s never-ending joking metamorphoses. Near the end of the exhibition, a room of white, with expressionless mannequins sculpted to reflect Bowie’s own features, adorned in celebration of the outrageous stage clothes – Kansai Yamamoto’s geometrical bodysuits, Alexander McQueen’s most famous distressed union flag overcoat for the 1997’s Earthling album cover and tour, some translucent, Pierrot drag and another pair of platform-heeled turquoise boots, were always the means of Bowie’s self-revision. His clothes made the man, over and over again.
The exhibit itself was organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago is the only US venue for this ground breaking exhibition. David Bowie Is a feast for the eyes. A pioneering visual artist, this exhibit must be seen to truly appreciate all that has gone into making the man. Whether a novice or connoisseur of all things Bowie, there is something here for everyone to really enjoy. After leaving the exhibit, I can firmly say “David Bowie is” a fabulous exhibit that is the must see artistic event of the season.
Tickets to see “David Bowie is” are $25 which also includes general admission to the museum. The MCA has extended hours daily (closed Mondays) for viewing. The exhibit runs through January 4, 2015.