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Examine the enigma that is David Bowie at ‘David Bowie Is’ at the AGO

By: Shelby Monita (@shelbymonita) –

Album cover shoot for 'Aladdin Sane', 1973. (Photo: Brian Duffy. © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive)

Album cover shoot for ‘Aladdin Sane’, 1973. (Photo: Brian Duffy. © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive)

Today, The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) opened its doors to David Bowie Is. Curators Geoffrey March and Victoria Broackes first produced this exhibit for The V&A in London, and it’s now embarking on an international tour with its first stop being Toronto.

The exhibit, which takes up two floors of the AGO’s contemporary wing has over 300 pieces from Bowie’s 75,000 piece personal archive in New York. Bowie himself had no part in this exhibit; in fact the curators of the exhibit have yet to meet him and cannot say if he ever attended the original showing in London.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate a living artist whose radical artfulness of identity has had an enormous influence on art, design and contemporary culture as we know it,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, director and CEO of the AGO. “We are thrilled to work with the world-class V&A in bringing the provocative genius and vision of David Bowie to Toronto.”

Originally titled Planned Accidents, due to the fact it is so fortunate that a man as massive as Bowie, with a long-standing career would have kept everything from his voyage, beginning with his teenage years. It is important to note that this exhibit, unlike many before it, is not set up in chronologic order and is not a biographic statement. The exhibit is rather set into themes throughout Bowie’s career from Space Oddity and beyond.

Though not just focusing on his musical career, there are notes from his acting triumphs, producer credits (specifically the two Iggy Pop albums (1977’s The Idiot and Lust For Life) Bowie produced while the two lived together in Berlin), and his artistic efforts as a painter (the exhibit features two Jim Osterburg portraits by Bowie), as well as handwritten notes  including one from Jim Henson asking Bowie to be in the 1986 film Labyrinth, which hangs above the walking stick and crystal ball used in the movie.

Additionally, lyric sheets, keys to his old apartment in Berlin, movie and show posters, b-reel of films, and many other odds and ends this majestic man kept over 50 years. Of course, what would a Bowie exhibit be without the costumes? For the total 300-something artifacts, 60 of them are costumes, all fit on mannequins specially made to Bowie’s exact proportions. Some are showcased for you to look in awe and others are placed brilliantly in front of a projection of the performance where Bowie donned each outfit. Not to worry, these performances are not shown in silence. Before taking the elevators to the forth floor to start the David Bowie Is journey, patrons are given a headset which gives a soundtrack to each room, allowing everyone to enjoy seeing Bowie, while listening to all Bowie. The answer to the questions David Bowie Is, is in one way answered many times throughout the exhibit with writings on the walls “David Bowie is in the airport”, “David Bowie is not David Jones” (David Jones being Bowie’s given name, then he changed when The Monkees reached fame, with one of the stars of the group named Davey Jones). Though the curators hope that this sentence will be left for interpretation for viewers to make up their own mind about Bowie, since he had so many talents and personas, David Bowie is something different to all of us.

This exhibit is a once in a lifetime opportunity and not to be missed, once it’s gone on November 27th, it’s gone for good. Any lover of pop culture, art, design, music and David Bowie, would be a fool to miss this.



  1. Pingback: The Man Who Sold The World – David Bowie | Lachlan J. Faces The Music - November 13, 2013

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