David Bowie is still stunning us, two years after his death.
You’ll find things you couldn’t see coming at the massive Bowie exhibit opening at the Brooklyn Museum this Friday — like a roll of wallpaper the pop legend designed.
“How many rock stars designed wallpaper?,” said the show’s co-curator, Geoffrey Marsh. “Why on earth would he do that? Bowie might say, ‘Why not?’”
After all, Bowie had one of music’s most curious minds. The 1,600 square foot show dedicated to his art — one of the largest exhibits in the museum’s history — highlights that aspect right in its open-ended title. Called “David Bowie is,” there are any number of ways to complete that sentence.
During his life, the late star was a musician, actor, video-maker, fashion pioneer, pop culture theorist and all-around shape-shifter. “Bowie meant experimentation,” said Matthew Yokobosky, the Brooklyn Museum’s Director of Exhibition Design. “He was about the freedom to try new things.”
There are also, of course, lots of things you might expect: Sketches for iconic costumes he wore, notes for key lyrics he wrote, and designs for pivotal concerts he gave.
The exhibit’s New York iteration, which runs through July 15, completes a world tour of a show which originated at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2013. Aptly, it originated in the city where Bowie’s career started, and it will close in the one where his life ended.
“The show was shaped in the context of an artist who was living,” said Marsh. “In that sense, it’s not a retrospective. It’s about Bowie as a creation.”
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Bowie died of liver cancer on Jan. 10, 2016, just two days after his 69th birthday. While the star himself approved the original show, he left it to the London curators to flesh it out, taking what they wanted from his archive.
They had plenty to choose from. Unlike the haphazard vaults of most rock stars, Bowie’s contained over 75,000 finely ordered items. From that, curators chose over 400, involving more than 50 costumes, including the ambisexual space creature from the “Ziggy Stardust Tour,” the severe black and white persona of the Thin White Duke and the surreal Pierrot figure of his “Ashes to Ashes” single.
The show, for which attendees are given individual headphones, features 36 complete songs, opening with a newly created mash-up of 50 Bowie pieces assembled by his longtime producer, Tony Visconti.
The Brooklyn exhibit boasts many things not included in previous incarnations, stressing America, in general, and New York, in particular. There’s the backdrop from the Broadway production of “The Elephant Man,” which starred Bowie in the ‘80s, a late period collaboration of art works by Bowie and Laurie Anderson, a section about the “Young Americans” album from Philadelphia, where it was partly recorded, large-scale film projections from his 1990 “Sound+Vision Tour,” a section about a unique version of his “Space Oddity” song created for a Dick Clark special about the ‘70s, plus the complete “1980 Floor Show,” which ran as a 38-minute “Midnight Special” installment in 1973.
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There’s a section as well on his censored art works, including the half-canine/half-man cover of “Diamond Dogs,” with the dog genitals airbrushed out, the cover of the “Tin Machine 2” album, which had the private parts excised, and a bodysuit from the “1980 Floor Show” that covered certain areas of the crotch. “David called them, ‘my three castrations,’” Yokoboski said.
Oh, and then there’s Bowie’s coke spoon from the ‘70s. “Part of the reason he moved to Berlin in the ‘70s was to detox,” said Yokoboski. “He later said, ‘Little did I know, I was leaving the coke capital of the world to enter the heroin den of Europe.’”
While the show has chronological elements, it’s more often thematic, flitting between his wide-ranging influences and interests. “It’s our way of saying, ‘This is what a creative person’s mind is like,’” Marsh said.
The show will be augmented by a full schedule of Bowie-related film screenings, concerts, and even an already sold-out dance in May where you can come as your favorite incarnation of the artist, titled “Night of a Thousand Bowies.”
“People have this very personal thing about David,” said Marsh. “Everyone has their own version of who he was.”
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