David Bowie is, now showing at la Philharmonie de Paris, is a fine exhibition. The venue – the brand-new-but-not-quite-finished Philharmonie – is superlative.
David Bowie is: rich content
David Bowie is gathers together a rich array of content from a wide spectrum of media, much of it supplied by Bowie himself.
Apart from the kind of artefacts you’d see in any rock art exhibition – photographs, album cover artwork, gig posters, ephemera, handwritten lyrics, instruments, video and audio clips – you also get designs, drawings, stage sets and costumes, and clothing, tracking David Bowie as an indefatigable style icon.
That’s what you’d expect: David Bowie is a multi-faceted creative – songwriter, singer/musician espousing innumerable genres, serial creator of personas, choreographer, film actor… .
David Bowie is also, of course, an occasional painter: he mounted his first solo show, New Afro/Pagan And Work, in 1995 at The Gallery, Cork St, London W1.
Sexual ambiguity, forays into high culture and regular Zeitgeist-challenging changes of direction add to the allure of David Bowie as a subject for a rock art show. David Bowie is doesn’t disappoint.
David Bowie is: strengths
My lasting impression of the David Bowie is exhibition is of the iconic photography and, especially, the compelling album cover artwork.
My preferred album covers include: Brian Duffy’s Aladdin Sane portrait (1973), used as the exhibition poster by la Philharmonie; the striking monochrome Masoyoshi Sukita portrait for “Heroes” (1977); and Guy Peellaert’s appropriately disturbing artwork for Diamond Dogs (1974).
David Bowie is: weaknesses
David Bowie is has no obvious weaknesses. It’s a rich collection, well curated. There’s even a sumptuous hardback catalogue which will take pride of place on fans’ bookshelves.
My attention lagged, however, when confronted by stage costumes, sets and fashion. They interest me far less than they would most David Bowie fans, I’d imagine.
David Bowie is: la Philharmonie de Paris
Familiar with David Bowie is from 2013’s inaugural exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, I spent most of my visit admiring the magnificent new building hosting the show.
La Philharmonie de Paris, designed by Jean Nouvel, was opened after much delay in January – still, embarrassingly, unfinished.
Located in la Cite de la Musique, at Porte de Pantin in NE Paris, just inside the Peripherique, la Philharmonie is easily accessible by Metro and tram.
Approaching the site on foot, I saw an unpromising hulk rising above the hyper-urban transport hub. Maybe it’s a temporary storage facility for grit used to de-ice the Periph in winter, I mused. “Please don’t let that be la Philharmonie,” I pleaded aloud to the God of Architecture.
Thankfully, that view from distance is misleading. Close up, la Philharmonie is an exciting addition to the Paris cityscape, with its challenging shapes, high quality materials and impressive build quality.
It all adds up to a building which is easy to navigate and a pleasure to explore. It seems fit for purpose, too – I’ll be confirming that by attending a concert there just as soon as a suitable gig entices me.
La Cite de la Musique already had an impressive track record of curating an unparalleled programme of rock art shows. In recent years, I’ve seen outstanding Miles Davis and Bob Dylan exhibitions and just missed shows devoted to Great Black Music, and Punk.
David Bowie is: the first global rock art exhibition
I’d guess that London’s Victoria & Albert Museum was tempted to create the David Bowie is exhibition by the myriad creative possibilities of a rock art show devoted to a polymath like David Bowie. That, and its tempting audience potential.
The enormous customer base of David Bowie fans – almost by definition, receptive to artistic, even avant-garde, expression – presumably emboldened the V&A to create a show at the junction of pop and high culture, popular but also acceptable to major public galleries acting as gatekeepers of the artistic canon.
After successful spells in London, Chicago, and now Paris, David Bowie is moves next to Melbourne, Australia (16 July-1 November) and then Groningen, in the Netherlands (15 December-13 March 2016).
The David Bowie is exhibition is the first large-scale global rock art show. Bravo the V&A and its international partners!
David Bowie is runs at la Philharmonie de Paris until 31 May. If you’re a Bowie or rock art fan with access to Paris, you won’t want to miss it.
If you’re a fan of bold, contemporary architecture, you’ll soon be visiting la Philharmonie de Paris anyway, regardless of David Bowie is.
Copyrights: text and photographs © Gerald Smith, Rock Art Editions. David Bowie images © David Bowie Archive. Aladdin Sane photograph by Brian Duffy. Exhibition posters © la Philharmonie de Paris. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.