Tuesday, 29 October 2013


Photo from the “David Bowie Is” exhibit at the AGO in Toronto. Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane (1973), design by Brian Duffy and Celia Philo, make up by Pierre La Roche. (Photo courtesy AGO)

Who doesn’t love David Bowie? Except for maybe the voters at the Grammy Awards, who snubbed Bowie during his peak creative years and finally awarded him a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.

The Grammys aside, Bowie is widely-revered as one of the great visionary talents of the late 20th century, and he finally gets his due in the massive “David Bowie Is” exhibition currently drawing capacity crowds at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

The man appeals to just about everybody, alternative and mainstream, gay and straight. Like Bowie once famously quipped, “It’s true – I am a bisexual. But I can’t deny that I’ve used that fact very well. I suppose it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. Fun, too.”

I first saw the “David Bowie Is” exhibition at London’s massive Victoria and Albert Museum (The V&A) this past spring. The ticket was the fastest seller in the V&A’s history, and history appears to be repeating itself at the AGO: Evening hours have been added, a second block of tickets are now on sale and the exhibit continues to November 27 before moving on to the Museum of Image and Sound in Sao Paulo, Brazil, from January to April 2014.

The exhibition itself is breathtaking: The V&A was given unprecedented access to the David Bowie Archive to curate the first international retrospective of Bowie’s career. Over 300 objects are featured, from handwritten lyrics, set designs created for the Diamond Dogs tour (1974), to Bowie’s own instruments and album artwork. On display are more than 50 stage-costumes including Ziggy Stardust bodysuits (1972) designed by Freddie Burretti, Kansai Yamamoto’s flamboyant creations for the Aladdin Sane tour (1973) and the Union Jack coat designed by Bowie and Alexander McQueen for the Earthling album cover (1997).

The dazzling exhibit looks at how Bowie’s music and individualism both influenced and was influenced by wider movements in art, design and contemporary culture. The exhibition also shows how Bowie has inspired others to challenge convention and pursue freedom of expression.

The lay-out at the V&A was much airier and spacier than that at the AGO, which I found cramped with long line-ups. Still, this is a must-see exhibition that will easily take you a good two hours to wander through.

David Bowie is continues at the AGO in Toronto until Nov. 27. Time slots do sell out. Advance ticket purchase is highly recommended, and the best times to visit are Tuesday to Friday, 10 am to 4 pm. Click here for more info and tickets.
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