Originally published in the August, 2014 issue of Juxtapoz Magazine:
David Bowie Is... has to be one of the greatest exhibition names ever. Obviously, it compels you to try and understand what exactly David Bowie is: performance artist, musician, actor, fashion icon, producer, collaborator, and an undeniable pioneering creative. David Bowie is a quintessential avant-garde populist, where theatrics and the concept of the alter-ego are elemental to performance in a myriad of genres in contemporary culture. That is why there is a touring museum retrospective celebrating a man who just last year, at a still evolving 66 years of age, released one of his finest albums to date, The Next Day.
When an artist is so iconic, we critics and fans are often left to try and define in words what is the center of such fame and influence. In the case of David Bowie, a museum retrospective can serve as an encompassing attempt to create a dialogue with how completely performance art can impact how we experience music. Bowie is Bowie because he became Ziggy Stardust, Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth, because he was transformed by the fashion designs of Kansai Yamamoto on the 1973 Aladdin Sane tour. Because he allowed himself and those around him to indulge in their creative impulses and capture the essence of the spirit of performance, Bowie is. He could create music that made you feel, but his collaboration with artists spurred you to see and touch music as visual art.
After a successful launch at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in Spring 2013, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago will host David Bowie Is from September 23, 2014 to January 4, 2015, showcasing “300 objects, including handwritten lyrics, original costumes, photography, set designs, album artwork, and rare performance material from the past five decades,” chronicling the life in art of the British artist. Most importantly, it invites a new generation of audiences to learn about this powerful fixture of music who, before The Next Day, had declared retirement from touring. Bowie once told music executive Joe Smith about conceiving his alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, “I found it quite easy to write for the artists I would create because I did find it much easier having created a Ziggy, to then write for him. Even though it was me doing it. I was able to sort of distance myself…” Here’s the opportunity for us to get just a little closer. —Evan Pricco
David Bowie Is will be at MCA Chicago from September 23, 2014 to January 4, 2015