As a title, ‘David Bowie Is’ gives little away about the exhibition. This incomplete sentence alludes to the idea that Bowie was both nothing and everything at the same time: an evolving persona that tested convention and inspired radical individualism. As I weaved my way through the labyrinth of screens, costumes, artwork and personal belongings of Bowie at Barcelona’s Museu del Disseny, I experienced first-hand the thrilling yet tumultuous life of one of the most pioneering performers of our lifetime.
From the moment I passed through the exhibition’s doors, I felt totally immersed in the world and mind of David Bowie. Intensified by the prohibition of cameras within the exhibition, as well as the headsets that automatically tune in and out of various songs and snippets of interview depending on where you are standing, ‘David Bowie Is’ commands your full attention. Despite the very occasional technical glitch, this brilliant audio technology offers little opportunity for distraction. Without the interruptions of pressing play or rewinding bits missed, I felt at liberty to wander at my own pace and retrace sections that merited a second listening. This total freedom to explore the exhibition made me feel somewhat lost despite being obviously on track as I meandered through the winding rooms. Whether intentional or not, in my mind this pleasant bewilderment drew an interesting parallel with Bowie and his own uncertainty as he tested the rigidity of identity, image, sexuality and art.
As Bowie playfully chats and sings in your ear, it really does feel as though the legend himself is leading you by the hand through the twists and turns of his exciting existence. The rooms weave between his childhood bedroom in Brixton, the streets of 1960’s Soho, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and glitzy Manhattan, where he spent the latter part of his life. The decision to largely exclude the voice of the interviewer from audio sound bites works wonderfully in creating an intimate experience between exhibition-goer and ‘The Picasso of Pop’ himself. It is this sense of personal experience that makes ‘David Bowie Is’ a particularly memorable, and oddly moving exhibition.
Ordered more or less by chronological stages of his life, 300 different items are scattered throughout each room, making it all the more rewarding to an attentive eye. The miniature spoon that he used to snort cocaine with sits rather discreetly in a glass case, surrounded by miscellaneous diary entries and letters. It could be argued that ‘David Bowie Is’ pulls a rather flattering (or arguably misleading) veil over Bowie’s drug addiction in the 1970s. Sparked initially by a particularly riotous tour in America, Bowie became hooked on cocaine, which he began referring to as his ‘soul-mate’. However, in my opinion, ‘David Bowie Is’ functions as a celebration of a cultural icon who in many ways shaped contemporary culture as we know it today. If you are looking for a privileged insight into his substance abuse and personal break down, then look somewhere else. If, however, you want to tap your foot to ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘Starman’, marvel at the costumes of Ziggy Stardust and the Alexander McQueen union jack coat, experience a Bowie concert through screens reaching 20-feet-high and ultimately pay homage to a man who challenged cultural convention in ways that people could only dream of: then look no further than this exhibition.
I am an English Literature student from Edinburgh University, completing an ERASMUS year in Barcelona. Whether I am at home in London, at university in Scotland or out here in Spain, I enjoy trying new things and seeing what I can write about them. I love reading, travelling, photography, bread sauce and just about anything with a tail.