Northeast Valley News

‘David Bowie is…’ captivating, creative, chameleon

Exhibition makes one U.S. stop in Chicago

Sharlene Celeskey
Installation view of final room shows videos and costumes from ‘David Bowie Is’ at MCA Chicago. The exhibition runs from Sept. 23, 2014 - Jan. 4, 2015.

Sharlene Celeskey, Contemporary Culture Editor, Puma Press, PVCC

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

“David Bowie Is…” captivating, creative, a chameleon and has landed in Chicago, Ill. On the way to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, a bus stop with a fuchsia and lemon yellow David Bowie in a Terry O’Neill photograph, announces his international exhibition. Proceeding down Chicago Avenue blue, red, and hot pink banners, with different photos of Bowie labeled “Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago,” hang from street light polls. A huge bright orange image of David Bowie with signature lightning bolt from 1973’s “Aladdin Sane” suspends on the museum wall with exhibition information. Descending the vivid orange-coated stairs, Bowie’s white and scarlet painted lyrics sing out on each step.

The exhibition at Chicago’s MCA, the only museum in the United States to feature the 400 piece show, spans five decades and opened on Sept. 23. It will run through Jan. 4, 2015. London’s Victoria and Albert Museum organized the show that received rave reviews. It ran there for almost five months with a record attendance of over 300,000 visitors. Media contact for MCA, Karla Loring, explains that Geoffrey Marsh, curator for the V &A museum stated that 96 worldwide museums bid for the exhibition “David Bowie Is.” Then the exhibition started on an international tour of seven cities. Loring said, “we are surpassing our (attendance) goals.”

An oversized book (“David Bowie Is…”) showcasing the exhibition came out in 2013 and recently a documentary by the same name featuring the show’s highlights was released.

What makes Bowie so intriguing?

Why does David Bowie generate such overwhelming interest? Loring says, “The exhibition has been very popular, visitors have had a strong emotional response to it and are feeling creatively inspired by the show.” What is the appeal of this chameleon artist and why has he inspired so many for five decades?’

In the documentary “David Bowie Is…” fans reminisce about first seeing Bowie on TV’s “Top of the Pops” in July 1972 and swear that he changed their lives. As I watch the film, I want to shout out, “That was me!” Musically, I found 1972 a wasteland of overly self-indulgent music. That fall a friend told me to listen to an artist I had never heard of, David Bowie. Shortly after, a painfully thin and pale Bowie, resembling an alien, appeared on the cover of “Rolling Stone Magazine.” He was touring the United States in the guise of Ziggy Stardust, the colorful character, from his latest album, “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.”

My sister and I saw Bowie on Nov. 5 that year at a half filled Celebrity Theater in downtown Phoenix. We had close seats; and when the theater darkened, strobe lights started flashing. When the theme from Stanley Kubrick’s film, “Clockwork Orange”, came on, we knew this was going to be a concert like nothing we had seen before.

The orange haired Bowie and his band in bright satin immediately started into a whirlwind show of short hard rocking songs. Bowie changed costumes several times, something I had never seen a male performer do. By the time he performed his final song, the dramatic “Rock and Roll Suicide,” I was standing directly in front of the stage, hypnotized by this androgynous performer.

I bought all four of his albums the next day. My perception of music immediately changed. I gravitated to theatrical rock and roll. I changed my dress and made my own glitter clothes. I altered the way I saw art and created it.

Bowie’s music spans five decades

For me Bowie’s music dominated the ‘70s and I eagerly awaited each new album. His sound and look changed with each new release. He got off to a slow start in the ‘60s, but the ‘70s is considered his golden decade, and each of his 11 original albums released was all critically acclaimed.

He dramatically changed direction in 1983 with the release of pop album “Let’s Dance” and became a legendary superstar. He constantly reinvented himself in the ‘80s and in 1987 planned his most elaborate theatrical tour yet, the Glass Spider Tour, which played at packed stadiums. Going back to basics in the ‘90s he played at smaller venues. After releasing the album, “Reality,” in 2003 he scheduled his last tour, “Reality Tour.”

Bowie played at larger venues, a stripped down stage and put more emphasis on the music. When he had a heart attack in June 2004, his tour abruptly ended. Then Bowie was silent and everyone believed he was finished with music. A decade later he released a new video, “Where are We Now,” on Jan. 8, 2013, his birthday. An album of new material, “The Next Day,” followed and immediately was a critical and commercial success. This October Bowie released a new song, the jazz feeling “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime.)”

David Bowie gets his own exhibition

After viewing the documentary, “David Bowie Is…,” I knew I must go to Chicago to see the exhibition. Inside the museum, a wall is painted with three large Bowie photographs. Sennheiser autoguides with 3D sound are passed out at the exhibition entrance. The first display featured is the oversized black and white vinyl striped Kansai Yamamoto costume from the 1973 Aladdin Sane tour.

The darkened rooms contain a multitude of displays, and listening to the autoguide, I hear his music while touring through the various phases of Bowie’s career. His creativity developed early as he spent hours reading, drawing and playing saxophone as a teenager. This art student drew future album covers for his band, already believing he would be a star. There are pages of lyric sheets written on lined notebook or graph paper peppered throughout the show. His handwriting changes from cursive to printing and from normal size to tiny.

His most elaborate costumes mainly come from his “Ziggy Stardust” era and are some of my favorites. The intricate work that went into each design is amazing. I am awestruck by Japanese designer Yamamoto’s extravagant costumes on display.

Slowly moving through each room, watching and listening to his videos, reading each information card, scrutinizing each item, I soak up his creative process. I pour over the display of his shiny angular black and white costume from his 1979 “Saturday Night Live” performance. After donning the costume Bowie was carried on stage because the outfit’s very design and structure rendered him immobile.   Additional display items show the influence of Cubist designer Sonia Delaunay ‘s costumes from the 1920’s Dadist play, “Le Coeur a Gaz.” After watching Bowie’s video, viewing the costumes and discovering the influence, I now fully understand Bowie’s creative process.

Exhibition acknowledges Bowie as artist and actor

Bowie went back to painting again during his Berlin period in the late ‘70s, and several of his paintings from this period are on display. I immediately see the influence of early 20th century Austrian artist Egon Schiele in his expressive portraits of Iggy Pop. I closely examine the details of his vivid multi-colored storyboards. One is for his “Ashes to Ashes” video and the other for an unrealized film based on the “Diamond Dogs” album.

Posters of several films starring Bowie hang in a separate room with a viewing room adjacent. I go to the room and watch clips showing the diversity of his roles. Clips include “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “Labyrinth,” “Zoolander,’ “Basquiat” and “The Prestige.”

I walk into the last room and see costumes and clothes spanning most of his career. Large screens on three walls project his videos, and the music accompanying them sounds pristine and crisp. The two ends of the room reveal some of his most famous costumes displayed behind the transparent screen.  Since there is so much to look at and listen to it is pleasantly and emotionally overwhelming. I just want to sit here and soak up all this artistic talent.

“David Bowie Is…” an amazing, emotional, visual and auditory rollercoaster ride through his artistic life at the MCA in Chicago. It stimulates my own creativity and brings back decades of fond memories.


For more info on the exhibition:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

Northeast Valley News intends for the comments area to be used to foster thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, personal or racial attacks, sexual harassment, or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. Comments are reviewed and must be approved by a moderator to ensure they meet these standards. We do not allow anonymous comments, and require a valid email address, which will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments. The 'Website' field is optional.

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.


Navigate Right
Navigate Left
  • ‘David Bowie is…’ captivating, creative, chameleon


    Tight scheduling leading up to “The Last Days of Judas” on opening night

  • ‘David Bowie is…’ captivating, creative, chameleon


    SCC bringing unconventional play to its campus

  • ‘David Bowie is…’ captivating, creative, chameleon


    Watato Children’s Choir performing for a cause

  • ‘David Bowie is…’ captivating, creative, chameleon


    Things to do to start off the new year

  • ‘David Bowie is…’ captivating, creative, chameleon


    Make-up application acceptable for men too

  • ‘David Bowie is…’ captivating, creative, chameleon


    Things To Do This Holiday Season

  • ‘David Bowie is…’ captivating, creative, chameleon


    Tempe host second annual run to promote healthy lifestyle

  • ‘David Bowie is…’ captivating, creative, chameleon


    Festival Season Kicks off in Arizona with the State Fair

  • ‘David Bowie is…’ captivating, creative, chameleon


    A “Plastic Man” on a mission

  • ‘David Bowie is…’ captivating, creative, chameleon


    Brazilian Day Festival sights and sounds

Regional, national and global student reporting.
‘David Bowie is…’ captivating, creative, chameleon