Musings before seeing the exhibition
Well, for starters I haven’t seen this exhibition yet, but like everyone else in the country I am getting wild about going! This unmediated enthusiasm aside, how to talk about an exhibition you haven’t seen? … well, we all attend exhibitions with preconceived ideas (if we didn’t, we wouldn’t go in the first place), so I’m going to run with that.
David Bowie for me kindles memories of my childhood, especially images of driving in the car with my mum with ‘retro’ cassette tapes playing Bowie’s Greatest Hits on full blast. His is the soundtrack to my mum’s experiences whilst she was growing up – yet it is also something that she has passed onto me. (Though I have to admit that it really is just Bowie’s most famous songs that I’m familiar with). So like everyone else, I feel his music means something personal to me – even if it is just a drive home from school with the mother. I have also used Bowie’s LP covers as make-up inspiration, some of which have turned out better than others…
The idea of this exhibition is haunting me in more ways than one – Why has this exhibition come now? This has definitely caused a lot of stir and speculation. The Review Show had a whole fat chapter on it (I remember one guest remarking that it is better to have this exhibition on Bowie and a new album than to be faced with his obituary – which is a slightly extreme and desperate way of justifying its existence I thought; but nonetheless how true, what a gift). Though however tenuous a justification for the need of this exhibition, next thing we know, other ‘vintage’ artists are copying this potentially narcissistic trend and curating shows about themselves (Annie Lennox springs to mind). This suggests it must be a popular and positive phenomenon, even if just in a financial sense…. Certainly, tickets for Bowie’s exhibition at the V&A have sold out faster than for any other show they have put on. I tried to secure tickets not long after the show opened and to my horror all weekends had sold out and the first time I could go was July.
However, the questions that are really bugging me include: Should artists be allowed to celebrate themselves in this self-congratulating way? Has the respected position of the artist finally gone too far? Should past stars be allowed to make such a commercial comeback? Who are they doing it for?
On the other hand, although I do feel sceptical about the integrity of the exhibition and of Bowie’s comeback image as a whole (and anxious about the potential negative ways it could impact upon his musical legacy), I am slightly reassured by the fact that Bowie curated the show himself. This at least is the careful and respected Bowie that we all know – indeed, ever since he started out as a musician and artist he made sure he has been fully in control of his self-presentation, (musical) experiments and choreography. Surely a retrospective and celebratory exhibition of an artist will be the most honest and tasteful if it is done by the artist him/herself? … Or is this cheating – does it make the handling of the subject matter too easy? Does a curator need more emotional distance from the subjects they present in order to be truly effective?
Due to the subjective nature of curating, there can never be satisfactory or universalised answers to these questions – maybe this is something Bowie has taken advantage of? Nevertheless, this mixing of art and music is certainly a cause for celebration. Maybe I should stop worrying and asking so many questions and just sit back to indulge in this arty orgy. I look forward to finally seeing this exhibition in the distance month of July.
David Bowie Is finally seen
We were greeted with a quote from Bowie stating no work of art is stable and assuring us that the audience brings its own meaning to the work, making art multiple. Already, the generosity and inclusivity characteristic of Bowie’s art and ways of working is brought out, making us as the viewer feel important and needed. This is reminiscent of Bowie’s electrifying presence on Top of the Pops when he performed ‘Star Man’ in 1972. A ‘reconstruction’ and film footage of this is included in the exhibition to startling effect helped by the aid of mirrors. The wonderful moment when he points straight at the camera is superbly recreated. Continue reading