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David Bowie is - Exhibition Review

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by Vanessa ★ (subscribe)
WeekendNotes Chief Editor / Chief Writer / PR & Communications.
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'Strange fascination, fascinating me'

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) exclusively presents the blockbuster exhibition David Bowie is for a strictly limited season from 16 July 2015 as part of Melbourne Winter Masterpieces.

Photographer: Mark Gambino

Celebrating the extraordinary 50-year career of one of the most pioneering and influential artists of the modern era, this spectacular exhibition showcases over 300 objects drawn from the David Bowie Archive, including handwritten lyric sheets, hundreds of photographs, stage sets, rare videos, filmed live shows, memorabilia, over 50 costumes, and interviews with key collaborators.

Photographer: Mark Gambino

Carefully created by the prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London, the exhibition has drawn over 1 million visitors to date and received widespread critical acclaim. Recently staged at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and Philharmonie de Paris/ Cité de la Musique, Paris, the exclusive Australasian season of David Bowie is at ACMI is complemented with a curated program of talks and special events, late night programs, film screenings and live performances.

Photographer: Mark Gambino

ACMI Director & CEO, Katrina Sedgwick, says the groundbreaking exhibition is testament to Bowie's profound and everlasting impact as a true pioneer in music, fashion and culture. "We are thrilled to be hosting the Australian incarnation of David Bowie is... It is an exhibition that not only illuminates the extraordinary breadth of Bowie's creative genius and his enormous impact over the decades – but it is also a beautifully curated and staged experience that will delight the many thousands of people who will see it in the coming weeks and months."

The V&A's curators, Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh, from the Museum's Department of Theatre and Performance, selected more than 300 objects and films for the show. Of the exhibition they said; "We are absolutely delighted to see David Bowie is travel to ACMI. Bowie himself has a long-standing relationship with Australia, including creating the music videos for Let's Dance and China Girl there. We hope that the exhibition meets the expectations of his extensive Australian fan base."

Geraldine Quinn performed a soulful rendition of Let's Dance for the media call. Photographer: Mark Gambino

Media were invited to an exclusive preview of David Bowie is on Wednesday 15th of July 2015. Opening the exhibition were ACMI Director & CEO, Katrina Sedgwick, Minister for Creative Industries, Martin Foley and V&A Assistant Curator, Dr. Kathryn Johnson. Their enthusiasm for David Bowie is was infectious and it seems Melbourne too is in the midst of Bowie fever - there have been record pre-sales and record web visitations.

Importantly this exhibition is a celebration of Bowie today - it is not a retrospective and the unique structure of the exhibition seamlessly blends the best of 'sound and vision'. This is thanks to the innovations of celebrated creative design team 59 and the 'guide port' system created by Sennheiser.

As visitors make their way around Galley 1, their personal 'guide port' plays back rare and comprehensive interviews with Bowie and collaborators, as well as key tracks in real time. It's a smart touch, which allows visitors to truly immerse themselves in each interactive display.

The Melbourne version of David Bowie is, is the largest yet and features some new exclusive content (building upon Bowie's strong relationship with Australia) including material centring on Let's Dance.

Exhibition highlights:


On display are early photographs and Bowie's sketches for stage sets and costumes created for his bands The Kon-rads and The Delta Lemons in the 1960s. This opening section concludes with a focus on Bowie's first major hit "Space Oddity"(1969) and the introduction of the fictional character 'Major Tom', who would later feature in "Ashes to Ashes" (1980) and "Hallo Spaceboy" (1995).


The exhibition moves on to examine Bowie's creative processes from song writing, recording and producing to his collaborations on the design of costumes, stage sets and album artwork.

Photographer: Mark Gambino

The 1970s saw Bowie embrace and draw inspiration from Surrealism, Brechtian theatre and avant-garde mime to West End musicals, German Expressionism and Japanese Kabuki performance.

Bowie's most famous creation, Ziggy Stardust, a human manifestation of an alien being was unleashed in 1972. Ziggy's daringly androgynous and otherworldly appearance had a powerful influence on pop culture, signalling a challenge of social conventions.

On display is the original Ziggy Stardust jumpsuit and boots created by Freddie Burretti and designed in collaboration with Bowie, who took inspiration from the costumes worn by the 'droogs' street gang in Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of "A Clockwork Orange" (1971).

Brian Duffy's contact sheet from the Aladdin Sane album cover shoot (1973) is also showcased. This album cover is one of the most recognisable images in popular culture and was created in collaboration with Duffy, Celia Philo and make-up artist Pierre Laroche.

The exhibition also features the original contact sheets for the Diamond Dogs promotional shoot taken by Terry O'Neill (1974) and is complemented by fashion photography taken by photographers including Duffy, Frank Ockenfels, Herb Ritts and John Rowlands.

David Bowie, 1973. Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita © Sukita / The David Bowie Archive

The Kansai Yamamoto striped bodysuit for the Aladdin Sane tour and photograph by Masayoshi Sukita (1973) are also included. Inspired by Japanese samurai and kabuki actors, this sculptural suit is one of the centrepieces of the exhibition. It features a white cloak with Japanese kanji lettering spelling out 'David Bowie' and was included in Yamamoto's 1971 exhibition at V&A. This flamboyant costume is showcased alongside several other Yamamoto costumes.

David Bowie during the filming of the 'Ashes to Ashes' video, 1980. Photograph by Brian Duffy. Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive.

Another long time collaborator is the costumier Natasha Korniloff who created a number of outfits for Ziggy Stardust shows including the Rainbow Theatre concerts (1972) and The 1980 Floor Show (1973).

Korniloff also designed the Pierrot costume featured on the album cover for "Scary Monsters… (and Super Creeps)" (1980) and worn by Bowie in the pioneering "Ashes to Ashes" music video, co-directed with David Mallet. The exhibition includes the original silver Pierrot costume and storyboards hand- drawn by Bowie for the "Ashes to Ashes" music video.

Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997. Photograph by Frank W Ockenfels 3 © Frank W Ockenfels 3

One personal favourite is the Alexander McQueen Union Jack coat designed, in collaboration with Bowie for the "Earthling" album cover (1997). The exhibition features the original Alexander McQueen Union Jack coat which combines elements of classic British design, represented by the Union Jack and expert tailoring learnt by McQueen on Saville Row, with an iconoclastic and subversive punk aesthetic.

The epic Diamond Dogs tour, designed by Jules Fisher and Mark Ravitz (1974) is also explored. At the time the set design was one of the most lavish rock shows ever created and a pioneering development in rock theatre. The stage set was inspired by Bowie's reading of George Orwell's novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four" (1949) and William Burroughs' "The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead" (1971).

The exhibition showcases the stage set model, alongside the "Diamond Dogs" album sleeve painting by Guy Peellaert, touring costumes, previously unseen footage from the tour and storyboards by Bowie for a proposed musical, which was eventually transformed into the album and stage show.

David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth

As well as achieving international success as a musician and performer, Bowie has had an extensive acting career. His performances in films including "Labyrinth" (1986), "Basquiat" (1996) and "The Prestige" (2006) are celebrated in the exhibition. A key centrepiece is "The Man Who Fell to Earth", directed by Nicolas Roeg (1976).

In his first feature film, Bowie starred as Thomas Jerome Newton, an extraterrestrial stranded on Earth. Roeg cast him after watching the Bowie documentary "Cracked Actor" (1974), reputedly waiting eight hours to talk over the project with Bowie who had forgotten the appointment. The cover artwork of Bowie's next two albums "Station to Station" and "Low" both incorporate stills from "The Man Who Fell to Earth" showing Bowie in character.

Bowie's handwritten lyrics and word collages inspired by William Burroughs' 'cut up' method of writing is also explored through a never before seen "Blackout" (1977) display. It is also accompanied with lyric sheets for "Fame" (1975), "Heroes" (1977) and "Ashes to Ashes" (1980).

David Bowie on Top of the Pops in 1972 performing Starman

An audio-visual display presents some of Bowie's most ambitious music videos including "DJ" (1979) and "The Hearts Filthy Lesson" (1995), and large-scale projections show recently uncovered footage of Bowie performing Jean Genie on Top of the Pops in 1973 and excerpts from D.A. Pennebaker's film "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture" (1973).

Print after a self‐portrait by David Bowie, 1978 Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive, Image © Victoria and Albert Museum

An area has been dedicated to the monochrome theatricality of Bowie's Berlin period and the creation of the stylish Thin White Duke persona identified with the "Station to Station" album and tour (1976). It also investigates the series of experimental and pioneering records he produced between 1977 and 1979 whilst living in Germany, known as the Berlin Trilogy.

Accompanying the exhibition is the Bowie Late Nights programme. Every Friday at 6pm ticket holders can enjoy FREE performances by DJs, electro artists and musicians, including Total Giovanni, Bombay Royale, Geraldine Quinn, Sleep D and Chela!

Plus there is the Strange Fascinations Short Talks, Bowie on Film Retrospective, Bowie is Education Program, Curator Talks and so much more!

Source: ACMI

And don't forget the merchandise! "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Please note admissions to this exhibition are strictly capped at 200 visitors per hour; advance bookings are highly recommended. For tickets and information visit

From one life-long Bowie fan to another - it's a must-see!

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When: 16 Jul - 1 Nov - see website for special events and trading hours
Where: ACMI (aka Bowie heaven)
Cost: $25 Full / $19 Concession / $15 Child
Your Comment
Wow, this is epic! I hope you Twitter out to Bowie fans :)
by Kristin Ravelle (score: 2|302) 1202 days ago
Fab article and timeless now as well.
by Tricia Ziemer (score: 2|516) 1008 days ago
Such a good article, thank you! I really enjoy the photos - it makes me even sadder that I missed the exhibition!
by JMBowen (score: 1|52) 980 days ago
Foodi Photoh Classie
by A Camera in Melbourne on 02/04/2015
by Lillian Nejad on 26/10/2015
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