19 May 2013

David Bowie is ... in the best selling show ...

... and it's easy to see why.

Bowie has been a prominent figure in British cultural life for over forty years and the V&A has pulled all the stops out in collecting and curating material relating to his life in music and on stage.

I bought my tickets months ago and even then I had to settle for a 10am slot on a Sunday morning.

TfL did not help by cancelling trains west of Earls Court that day and I had to risk the rail replacement bus service. I was relieved to get to the V&A only a few minutes late for my timed slot.

The V&A seemed to have learnt some lessons from the also-sold-out Hollywood Costumes exhibition which was, at times, too packed to enjoy easily. Perhaps being in the first slot of the day helped.

Another change was the technology. This time we all got clever audio guides that did not have the usual numbers to call up the voice, it used proximity instead so you only had to walk up to one of the exhibits and the headset automatically spoke or sang to you. This was a little spooky at times and I found myself looking around for the video that was lip-synced to what I was listening too.

Costumes featured heavily and there were outfits on display from many of the album covers and major tours. No prizes for spotting the Pin-Ups suit here.

I found myself strangely entranced by the costumes, when I had not expected to. I especially liked the Alexander McQueen frock-coats from the Earthling album and tour. And that hints at one of the exhibition's strengths, it drew on the full range of Bowie's career and did not play safe and just draw on the big periods like Ziggy. There was even some Tin Machine stuff in there.

Other things on display included song lyrics, album covers, stage designs and interviews, such as one with a hopeless Russell Harty who referred to the new single as "Golden Tears" before asking Bowie to introduce it himself.

Of course there were lots of video clips too and I caught more than one person singing out loud. A highlight was the final large room (above) which had several large screens and lots of seats too. There I watched a number of songs from live performances and at one point there were two versions of Heroes playing and which one you heard depended on where you were in the room. It was magic and I'd probably still be in there if it was allowed.

The V&A are seriously good at curation and when they combine those skills with a popular subject then they know that they have got another big hit on their hands. I absolutely loved it and I think that all the people grabbing the merchandise in the shop on the way out did too.

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