DAVID BOWIE IS ... An Exhibition in Tokyo, Japan
As most of my friends and enemies know, I love David Bowie. I have been thinking of David Bowie for every day since 1972 when I purchased "Honky Dory." My whole life is mapped out by Bowie's releases of album and singles. To say he's important to me is like asking if humans need to drink water. I actually don't understand people who don't like Bowie's music. I have met them, but for me, they're truly alien from another hostile planet. So, one would think I would be bananas over the David Bowie Is" exhibition. The truth is I like it, as a spectacle, but I think they could have done much more of a better show.
I now imagine myself as the curator. First of all, Bowie didn't curate this show. I suspect he looked at it with a very critical eye and his opinion mattered much in the choices and the way the show is exhibited. According to the Victoria & Albert Museum (who put the show together), he had no say in the exhibition. I find this hard to believe. What the show consists of are his stage costumes for both concert tours and videos, as well as his drawings, paintings, and notes. In many ways, the exhibition reminds me of two other museum shows - and both were in Las Vegas. Liberace's museum (no longer exists) and Debbie Reynolds exhibition of her Hollywood costume collection (that too, does not exist). Of the three, the Liberace collection is more impressive because it expresses his aesthetic and attitude toward showbiz world. Like Bowie's costumes, Liberace's clothing for the stage is superbly made and designed. And the Liberace message comes through its narrative that runs through his collection with respect how it was displayed in that Vegas strip-mall. The problem with Bowie's exhibition is not the content, but how the work is presented as well as lacking a narrative sense or place in history.
The chronicle order of showing the costumes is messed-up, and I would think it would confuse the new Bowie lurker. I don't know the difference between the London and Tokyo show, but here in Japan, the exhibit starts off with John Cage and Gilbert & George. My first reaction is why Cage and Gilbert & George? I can understand Bowie's appreciation of these two artists, but to put them at the beginning of the show lacks a narrative, and this exhibition needs a definite beginning, middle, and end. The opening of the exhibit does deal with literature and place and time in London during Bowie's teenage years, but then loses that sense of placement as one wonders on to the other rooms.
As a Bowie fanatic I see the exhibition going in another direction. If I were the curator, I would make this show larger by bringing the outside world into the Bowie cosmos. The beauty of Bowie is that he had always commented on the world around him. That context is important throughout his career. The exhibition needs not only his costumes, and personal papers - but also a film retrospective, panel discussions, and the whole subject of glam rock via T. Rex, Jobrieth, N.Y. Dolls and so forth. A nice touch of adding Anthony Newley into the exhibit, but it would have been fantastic to show performances by Newley as well as Scott Walker, Jacques Brel and others who influenced Bowie.
This, of course, is my fantasy of the Bowie exhibition, and I understand what the show is, and what it is not - but I feel that this is a lost opportunity to show the importance of this great artist. The auction of Bowie's art collection that was recently sold has a stronger presence than what is shown here in the exhibition. Still, I'm a starving man in the wilderness, and seeing the Bowie exhibition was a great pleasure.