In a room surrounded by larger than life renditions of their favorite David Bowie personas from Major Tom to Thin White Duke, museum-goers anxiously await their turn to enter the exhibit. In big block letters on a bright orange wall, the title of the show is spelled out: “David Bowie Is.”
“David Bowie Is,” created by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, is making its final stop on its grand tour at The Brooklyn Museum from March to mid-July. The exhibit displays hundreds of costumes, objects, and video footage from Bowie’s personal archive, taking the viewer on a journey from the start of his career to the final years of his life. With a no-photo policy and virtually soundproof headphones blasting his greatest hits, patrons become fully immersed in the grandeur that is Bowie.
Upon entrance, fans are greeted by the infamous Kansai Yamamoto striped jumpsuit created for the Aladdin Sane Tour and a recording of young Bowie whispering about his childhood and early years as a writer and musician. It feels as though you are walking through a time machine, listening to interviews from when Bowie still went by his given name, David Jones, studying his handwritten song lyrics, and observing his early album art.
Next follows a room dedicated solely to Bowie’s first major hit, “Space Oddity.” Fans young and old can be seen rocking out to the anthem we all remember hearing on repeat two years ago on the day of his death. The lyrics “And the stars look very different today” sung aloud by museum patrons are a reminder of the impact Bowie left on so many people’s lives, rendering it one of the most emotional sections of the exhibit.
As the show takes visitors on a trip through time, patrons encounter costumes such as his powder blue suite from “Life on Mars” and clips from his time as an actor in beloved films like “Labyrinth.” Here, even the Bowie superfan can learn new, interesting facts about his life, like his strange writing process using the self invented “Verbasizer,” a word-randomizing program on his computer responsible for jams such as “Hallo Spaceboy.”
Finally, before exiting through a corridor filled with photographs and tributes to Bowie, museum-goers enter a room where they are asked to remove their headphones and face a giant screen displaying footage from live performances of songs such as “Jean Genie” and “Heroes,” causing viewers to feel as though they’re actually seeing him on stage. Visitors exit through one last corner about Bowie’s final album “Blackstar” and are left with a light-up sign displaying the all too true words, “David Bowie is Someone Else.”
Illustration and GIF by Stephanie O’Byrne