REVIEW: David Bowie is – The V&A, London

Yesterday, I made the 350 mile round trip to London, just to see a museum exhibition.

Madness, I hear you cry, but if I told you that it was to accept a kind invitation on behalf of the David Bowie is exhibition, then perhaps you can see why I jumped at the opportunity and invested?!

Sadly, being in Manchester, I was unable to make the press preview day at the exhibition, before it officially opened, however, as soon as I had a free weekend to arrange to come and see the exhibition, I got it straight in the diary – it has been almost killing me to see all of the fantastic comments about the exhibition online in the meantime, as a massive Bowie fan, the feeling of suspense was massive!

bowie-va The exhibition itself was very well thought out, and it was marvellous to see costumes, hand-written notes and experience so much of David Bowie’s music as you wandered around the tour. When you arrive, you are provided with a headset that you just press ‘play’ on, and as you approach specific exhibits, the sound will automatically play in your ear to accompany what you’re looking at – a very nice bit of kit (I also love my tech!).

The museum does operate a timed entry system for this exhibition to try to stagger the number of people (if you’ve ever been to South Kensington, you will know how spectacularly busy these museums get – for the Natural History Museum down the road, the queue to get in was literally about half a mile long) – however for David Bowie is, I struggled to see a few bits just owing to the sheer volume of people, many of whom either selfishly stood right in front of the more intricate exhibits, or, at times, there were so many people in front, it was impossible to progress forward when you wanted to. When we arrived, the crowd from the previous 15 minute slot hadn’t really gotten through the first room, so adding more people to that did cause a little bit of a bottleneck in my opinion. Kudos to the exhibition for thinking to limit numbers by way of timed tickets, it’s just a pity that natural human behaviour seems to rebel a bit against this!

In the interest of fairness, I should stress that I was there on a Bank Holiday weekend/Saturday, and that the systems in place at the exhibit were actually all working, and that there was nothing else that could feasibly be done!!

Personal highlights for me included seeing the costumes themselves, a massive wall of video with additional costumes behind it, experiencing all of the music performances, and (as a child of the 80s, the two things that made me scream a little!!) – Jareth’s crystal ball and crop from Labyrinth!!!

An absolutely fantastic exhibition, and one which was well worth the massive round trip. If you live any closer than I do, then you’ve definitely no excuse not to go and see it!!!! I don’t know what the plans are for it after it closes in August, however I can only hope that it goes on tour as did the Annie Lennox retrospective last year…

I’d love to hear what experiences other people have had of this exhibition, and perhaps even of the great man himself, so do please feel free to leave a comment on this post, and share/encourage your friends to visit the exhibition!

The V&A has been given unprecedented access to the David Bowie Archive to curate the first international retrospective of the extraordinary career of David Bowie.

David Bowie is features over 300 objects including handwritten lyrics, original costumes, fashion, photography, film, music videos, set designs, Bowie’s own instruments and album artwork. On display will be more than 300 objects brought together for the very first time Ziggy Stardust bodysuits (1972) designed by Freddie Burretti, photography by Brian Duffy; album sleeve artwork by Guy Peellaert and Jonathan Barnbrook; visual excerpts from films and live performances including The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), music videos such as Ashes to Ashes (1980) and set designs created for the Diamond Dogs tour (1974).

Alongside these will be more personal items such as never-before-seen storyboards, handwritten set lists and lyrics as well as some of Bowie’s own sketches, musical scores and diary entries, revealing the evolution of his creative ideas.

David Bowie is, at the V&A 23 March – 11 August, in partnership with Gucci, sound experience by Sennheiser.   www.vam.ac.uk/davidbowieis

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8 thoughts on “REVIEW: David Bowie is – The V&A, London

  1. Hi Gary,

    Only yesterday I was told about this exhibition so seeing your review pop up was well timed.. Sounds like they need the route marshalled by staff who are able to keep the crowd moving.
    I may leave it a while before my visit in the hope these problems are ironed out.

    Best regards

    Paul Johnson.
    Author of Flying Cats and Flip Flops and a long standing Bowie fan

    • Hi Paul,

      It would definitely be more beneficial if the staff there weren’t just there to make sure people weren’t misbehaving.

      In view of getting to see the exhibition, I suspect that it will always be rather busy, if honest, as all of the advance tickets have been sold for the exhibition, and they sell to a limited capacity. I believe that you can turn up on the day to secure a ticket (though it may not be timed for the exact time that you’re there so you may need to be around the area for the day) – full details are on the V&A website, hope that helps! Love to know if you do get to see it, though it really is ‘must see’ given your Bowie fan status!! :)

      Top tip would be to either get to be first in your time slot in, or dawdle a little so that you’re last in your slot to go through – I imagine walking in that group of people would probably be where people bunch together a little less!

  2. I didn’t know about this exhibition until I read your review either Gari. It sounds great! As a trendy (!) 12 – 14 year old at the time of Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, Bowie’s music was always around me and I still look back at the music of that era with a sense of nostalgia and escapism. I remember when Drive In Saturday came out that I didn’t think there’d ever be a better pop single! The crowds at the exhibition sound a bit undesirable but I think I’d better programme this in the diary for later on in summer. Cheers, Chris :)

    • Absolutely worthwhile – I don’t think you can do much with a crowd that size where everyone wants to see everything, to be honest.

      I noticed before on the website that they do have some late evenings which may be quieter and they do suggest trying during the week for a less busy experience – just depends on when you’re free to queue in the morning for a ticket for some point that day ^_^

      If you do go, lmk what you made of it – be great to know what someone who lived the era thought too, as the focus really is on the early stuff.

  3. A chap called Terry Kramer also left a comment on this via the ‘contact me’ section of my website – thanks for stopping by Terry, and I’ve pasted your comments below for the benefit of all visitors to this rather popular post :)

    Just attended David Bowie Is. What a mess! Today wasn’t a bank holiday and still
    too many timed ticket holders all pushed in together. I would enjoy knowing that the designers of the layout would be required to attempt to experience the
    exhibit with fellow viewers. More than one area in a room, with two or more
    entrances, and exhibits requiring viewers to stand back to back while others
    are attempting to move between these groups. Yes, no one stayed in line, others
    decided to stand at exhibits and dance in place. And the Sennheiser headphone
    system was a joke; half the time it wouldn’t pick up data at one site, and other times it was picking up sounds from a exhibit in the distance. A treat to see costumes up close & personal, and song writing artifacts, but i believe a straight
    line moving through, opening up on the final “theater screens/concert area”,
    and traditional headphones that require only pushing a number to retrieve
    info would have increased my pleasure. I had watched a BBC film from the
    70′s about Bowie and the development of Ziggy Stardust, and it greated aided
    my knowledge of the exhibit. Thanks for listening. Terry

  4. I visited the exhibition on saturday 22nd June after travelling from Liverpool. It was so worth it, my ticket was anytime so I didnt have to adhere to a certain time slot. I have loved bowie since I was 12 years old buying space oddity on single. I was able to ignore the people around me, I was in my own little world it was so emotional. Its a must do experience for bowie fans , like all his gigs I have been to I wont forget it.

  5. Went on Sunday to the 7.45pm last entry of the day.
    A fantastic exhibition especially for the true Bowie lifelong fan. Amazing amount of thought has gone into this including the use of timed musical headsets, and being so close to some of the props and his contumes is breathtaking! . Found it very sad that the great music and Bowie era is kind of “all over” and felt it was almost a tribute to a dyeing person even though he’s far from that hopefully. It bought back some great times and memories of the concerts I’d been too! Anyhow main reason for a moan is that that chuck you out at 9.30pm sharp on a sunday and the shop is closed! So for one a three quarter hours I felt is not enough especially when you have no time at all the check out the Bowie goods in the shop. That alone is my only moan of what is a superb sound and vision exhibition. But try not to be the last entrees on a sunday evening, or ask to get in a bit before the start time on your tickets!

    • A really useful tip Roger, thanks a mil for the ticketing advice and for also sharing your thoughts on the exhibition – both of which I’m sure that readers will echo are very much appreciated :)

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