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Bowie retrospective set for London's Victoria and Albert Museum

January 22, 2013|By Mike Boehm
  • David Bowie poses with his Rolls Royce in 1973. The British rocker is the subject of a retrospective exhibition opening in March at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.
David Bowie poses with his Rolls Royce in 1973. The British rocker is the… (Associated Press )

David Bowie, the art museum exhibition, is due to open March 23 for a four-month run at London’s venerable Victoria and Albert Museum.

For art-world purists who decry the trend toward celebrity-driven programming -- something not unheard of at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, among others -- it’s one more sign that they’ll just have to “turn and face the strange changes,” to quote a Bowie refrain from 1971.

Titled “David Bowie is,” the upcoming display of more than 300 objects -- sponsored by Gucci -- is billed on the museum’s website as “the first international retrospective” on the chameleonic rocker. It will explore “the creative processes of Bowie as a musical innovator and cultural icon, tracing his shifting style and sustained reinvention across five decades.”

Given “unprecedented access to the David Bowie archive,” two curators from the V&A’s Theatre and Performance department have picked a show that includes costumes Bowie wore as “Ziggy Stardust,” the 1972 album and persona that vaulted him to super-stardom, as well as original album artwork, video clips, set designs, handwritten lyrics and some sketches by Bowie.  In other words, it's a rocker-as-auteur approximation of LACMA’s current  retrospective on film director Stanley Kubrick, and its 2011 exhibition on Tim Burton.

The British daily, the Guardian, ran a recent interview with Roy Strong, a former director of both the Victoria and Albert and the National Portrait Gallery, who said that the dominant role of public funding of museums in Britain is sapping their sense of adventure and iconoclasm.  “Nobody dares put on an exhibition that actually criticizes the government or public policy,” he said, leaving just a menu of “endless Renoir exhibitions … glamor and money.”

Asked about the forthcoming Bowie retrospective, Strong said:  "Well, we already had Grace Kelly [the subject of a 2010 show at the V&A]. What she was doing there I don't know. They've done a number of things like that. They've done that with one notion in mind -- box-office.”

Strong appeared resigned, however, to some influx of pop culture: “You have to look at it on its own merits. It's just a balance, that you don't do too much of it."

Purists in Great Britain might already have gotten the message from “Hollywood Costume,” an array of famed cinematic garb from “private and archival collections in California” that closes its three-month run at the Victoria and Albert this weekend.

With a $24.37 special exhibition price, at current exchange rates, advance tickets for 10 of the first 12 weekend dates for “David Bowie is” were already sold out as of Monday, according to the museum’s website. (Admission to the V&A’s permanent collection is free.)

A published four-year strategic plan through 2015 says a top priority is “to make the V&A matter to more people,” and build its attendance -- 2.9 million in 2011-12 -- by 2% annually. Meanwhile, Great Britain’s  economic doldrums have brought an across-the-board tightening of government arts funding. The V&A’s subsidy is projected to drop gradually from about $62 million in 2011 to $60 million in 2015.

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