Well, you could just call up the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, where the exhibit was created, and ask. This method worked pretty well for Michael Darling. Of course, it probably also helped that Darling’s the chief curator of the MCA, which actually has the space to hold all of Bowie’s stuff, and also the technical capacity to run the autoPORT autoguides, which use headphones with geolocators to match audio with visuals, and also the 3D sound in the final gallery, meant to make you feel like you’re at a live Bowie show. (Both these things were invented by the German company Sennheiser.)
Still. Geoffrey Marsh, one of two V&A curators (the other is Victoria Broackes) who worked on the exhibit, made it sound that easy in his chat with Darling at the MCA’s press preview.
- Roy Ainsworth
- Davie Jones at 16 in 1963, two years before he became Bowie. “He had the ability to look through the lens at the audience,” says Marsh, “even if it was still an imaginary audience.”
Bowie’s archive in New York, which contains more than 60,000 objects, has a full-time archivist. (Think about that for a minute: there is a person, Sandy Hershkowitz, whose full-time job is to keep track of all of David Bowie’s stuff.) All the things on display are original, even the lipstick-wiped tissues, except for the saxophone Bowie’s father gave to him when he was a teenager. It’s made of Bakelite and too fragile to travel.
Peter Frampton’s father was one of Bowie’s early music teachers.
Bowie did not attend the exhibit in London or in Berlin. Darling and the rest of the MCA staff have not given up hope that he’ll come to Chicago. He’s been in Chicago before: in 1980, he starred in The Elephant Man onstage and was a regular at Neo nightclub. There’s a clip of his performance in the exhibit. “It’s difficult to look good in a loincloth,” says Marsh, “but, God, he looks good in it.” (The Elephant Man later moved to New York, where it was overshadowed by John Lennon’s assassination.
The “Boys Keep Swinging” video, featuring Bowie as himself and three female backup singers, was filmed in a single weekend at the BBC studios, along with two other videos. Marsh has been told that after the studio closed, Bowie and his crew continued filming on the street.
Marsh says that the exhibit is definitely not meant to be a retrospective. “We wanted to get away from the idea of ‘David Bowie, 1947 to . . .’ It’s ‘David Bowie Is’ because he’s always doing something. It’s less about the output than the process. One-third of the people who came to the exhibit [in London] had never been to the V&A before. A lot of them said they came out inspired to do something. David Bowie has the ability to make people think they can do things.”