David Bowie Is…. coming to the end of the run. In mid July, the current showing in Brooklyn will come to a close and, at this stage, so will five wonderful years of the exhibition touring the world. This revolutionary showing of an icons inner sanctum has traveled to no less than twelve different cities since it opened in March 2013 at the V&A in London, the home city of Bowie where he grew up and became the person we know today. It’s fitting then that the final curtain should fall in the city where he lived his final years, Brooklyn, New York. During the run of these exhibitions, we’ve witnessed the return of the messiah through The Next Day, his first major stage production, Lazarus and his final album, Blackstar. As well as all the artistic happenings, there has been a plethora of re-issues thrown our way, many of which came in the form of highly limited releases which have, in turn created a sometimes toxic collectors market (Let’s Dance yellow 7″ anyone?) and given us multiple re-issues of the same album on many different colours which has drained the pockets of many good collectors whilst turning other long termers away all together due to the chaos modern Bowie collecting involves.
After parting ways with London, David Bowie Is…. then moved onto Toronto, Sau Paulo, Berlin, Chicago, Paris, Melbourne, Groningen, Bologna, Tokyo, Barcelona and New York. Along the way, the exhibition has broken countless attendance records and introduced a new generation of Bowie fans to a world one never imagined existed. If only to gain access to the “archive” as they call it? It’s been mentioned before that the curators were unable to include everything which makes one wonder exactly what else is hidden away from the public eye. One thing is for sure, the exhibition has not held back in coming forward.
I saw the initial showing in London the caught up with it again in Paris, Melbourne, Groningen, Tokyo and Barcelona. Initially, I was going to keep the visit to just the one in London. By the time it got to Paris, I wanted more and I got more. Much, much more. Somehow, I even managed to secure a few of the limited edition exhibition only releases along the way. Noticing the small changes from London to Paris, I decided to follow in the footsteps of other fans and see more of the exhibition in other cities. Groningen was the first version I caught following his death which left a tremendous mark on many who visited. Wandering through, we knew there would be no more new albums, no follow up to Lazarus and most certainly, no interviews or live performances of any kind. It was all quite reflective. At each stop along the way, it was always nice to peer over the old hand written lyrics, stage costumes and other curiosities. At each stop, I also met new fans who were all just as passionate. Everyone had a story to share and it was amazing to see first hand just how much one man touched so many of us.
With little tweaks to the displays at each stop, it always felt kind of fresh and, whilst some sped through the exhibition at a breakneck pace, I always made every effort to spend hours at a time in there. In London, I was in and out in around 7 hours, Paris took me 5 hours and Tokyo was 6. I poured over each and every artifact multiple times, never feeling like i’d seen any particular piece enough. My shortest trip came in Melbourne where I was in and out in under 3 hours thanks mainly to time constraints before heading back to London and the fact it was so poorly laid out compared to other cities. Tokyo was a personal highlight because not only was it my first time in the city, there were shed loads of beautiful coloured vinyl releases to buy at very reasonable prices. I also experienced my first visit to the world renowned Tokyo record stores littered around the city. If had the money, I could have spent thousands in these stores. They were amazing multi layered wet dreams for the record buying public. More so for starry eyed first timers like myself. Another highlight of the Tokyo exhibition was the spacious cafe located near the store. It was laid out with Bowie memorabilia and had reasonably priced drinks and snacks on sale.
People often asked me how I managed to get so many good photos inside each exhibition? In part, that was down to my cunning usage of personal awareness and knowing when security were distracted or looking away. The other secret was to always keep my camera or iPhone close to my chest or on my back pack (strapped to my chest) for easy and simple access. Bang bang! Photo taken and security none the wiser. When I was caught out on a few occasions, I would make an effort not to try it on again when the same security were in my vicinity. Another cheeky trick was to play the over apologetic dumb tourist routine. It worked a treat because security would often mark you down as an idiot and not think any more of what you were doing. Meanwhile, I would leave each exhibition with over 400 shots, many of which were perfect to use and share. In some instances, security didn’t even give a toss, as was the case in Barcelona. I’m glad I broke the rules and took photos of whatever I wished to photograph. It allowed my to capture many memories I refer time and again.
At the end of the day, David Bowie Is…. was all about capturing memories and revisiting a magnificent past. It’s been a wonderful 5 year stretch where I have visited multiple cities, some for the first time, met many new friends, collected too much vinyl for my own good and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. Will David Bowie Is… make a return at some point down the line? Who knows? Personally, I would love to see it become a permanent exhibition in London so fans and admirers for decades to come can pop along and appreciate the magic. But as has always been the case with anything Bowie related, you just never what’s around the corner or what he has lined up for us next. As he told us in 1997 at his 50th birthday concert, he “Can’t tell you where i’ll go next, but I promise you, it won’t be boring…”