Back in June I went to the much talked about David Bowie Is exhibition at the V & A (after rediscovering my fascination for the man a couple of years ago. Here’s guest blogger Nicola’s take on the screening of the event that was held to mark its closing in London:
I didn’t see the Bowie exhibition at the V & A, making me, it seems, one of only a few Bowie fans for whom it didn’t appeal. The live event ‘David Bowie is happening now’, transmitted live to cinemas across the UK, however did. The chance to hear the curators talking about the exhibition pieces and explaining why particular artefacts from Bowie’s archive were considered representative of its themes was the draw.
The event got off to a shaky start with the presenters directing their opening words to the audience members at the V&A and not to camera. With the presenters turning their heads in every direction other than straight ahead it looked like they couldn’t find the right camera. And nerves got the better of one presenter who couldn’t wrestle them into submission for the best part of the show.
As one might expect, we were guided around from the beginning of the exhibition with live commentary and pre-recorded footage from guest commentators and members of the public, before the focus returned to the stage with the first of a series of special guests being invited to talk, setting the format for the evening as we were slowly led around the various rooms.
Guests included Hanif Kureishi, Kansai Yamamoto, Jarvis Cocker, Sir Christopher Frayling, Paul Morley, Terry O’Neill and Michael Clark, providing plenty of added value. When clothes designer Kansai Yamamoto took to the stage the event really took off. He was clearly moved by the recognition of his talents via the inclusion of his iconic pieces. By his own admission, his English hadn’t improved much in the decades since he created the Aladdin Sane outfit, but there was a power in his delivery even as he struggled to find the next word. He managed to raise a ripple of laughter when he revealed that the first time he met his future muse Bowie was wearing an outfit he had designed to be worn by women. All the invited guests spoke well and interestingly and had something different to say – there was only one fawning appreciation of Bowie but this inclusion was to represent the fan.
Standout moments included the shared amazement that Bowie had the foresight to keep EVERYTHING: every doodle, every scribble, every scrap ensuring a comprehensive archive; Bowie’s vision: he thought BIG from the outset and refined his ideas on paper; his skill at finding the right collaborators; Paul Morley and others commenting on Bowie’s naive handwriting on scrawled lyrics, which make Bowie’s genius appear to be mere child’s play, belying the enduring power and magnificence of the songs they became; members of the public impressing on today’s audience the impact of Bowie singing Starman on TV; the colour and flamboyance of every new persona he invented, many represented by beautifully tailored outfits; and the photographic images taken throughout Bowie’s long musical career that, in Nicholas Coleridge’s words, somehow remain timeless.
Michael Clark discussed Bowie’s legacy which the exhibition successfully conveys. The live event covered much of what one would expect, yet the production team were wise not to gloss over the rich seams captured in the details that lead one to a better understanding of the subject, thus also retaining the exhibition’s inspirational quality. One pre-recorded voice in particular struck a chord: a young visitor to the exhibition said that, having seen Bowie’s hand-written lyrics, she was going home to have a go.
Sir Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, wanted to make the Pompeii exhibition accessible to as many people as possible. Hence, he brought the exhibition to the UK’s cinema screens. With the Bowie exhibition being the fastest selling sell-out exhibition in the V&A’s history, the screening of the live event meant that anyone who wasn’t lucky enough get a ticket could still get a taste of what they missed, which has got to be a good thing. Although, for anyone who would still like to see the Bowie exhibition in person, I am pleased to report that it is a travelling exhibition, ending in Paris in 2015.