Saturday, November 16, 2013

David Bowie Is...

...talented, intelligent, an enigma, rather weird and the subject of the current exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  The show originated at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  According to this article, "Bowie didn’t collaborate on this exhibition himself, though he did allow unprecedented access to his 7,000-piece, personal archive."

Photo: Spending this Friday night with David Bowie at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Fascinating exhibit, wayyyy too many people clustered around each display.

I went to see the show last night. It's been on display since the end of September and will be leaving Toronto at the end of this month, so I'm a little late coming to the party but glad I saw it.  My only complaint was that it was quite crowded.  There are 200 tickets available for each half hour entrance time and once you're in, you can stay as long as you like.  There are only a few late night Friday openings, of which last night was one, which I suspect is one of the reasons why it was a full house. Unfortunately, the display rooms are quite small in some cases, while others are full of odd angles and various nooks and crannies and there were often 6 to 20 people standing in front of each display case, framed poster or mannequin wearing one of several iconic stage outfits, making it a slow and tortuous process to make your way through the exhibit and enjoy the full extent of the information being presented on small, difficult-to-read-unless-you-are-standing-right-in-front-of-them signs.

Although I have to admit, being up close and personal with a bunch of strangers like that can be fun too. One of the funniest moments for me was standing in a very small room where one wall is covered with copies of the various album covers of Bowie's discography (and the other 3 walls and the ceiling are covered with that egg carton foam that is used for sound absorption, presumably to make us think we were standing in a recording studio) and overhearing a man who looked to be about my age tell the much younger woman he was with (who might have been his daughter but I suspect was his date) which of the albums he had owned while she looked somewhat bored and as if she might be wondering to herself, "what's a record album?"!

The artifacts themselves are quite interesting.  There are items from his early years, some of his original paintings, handwritten lyric sheets and several articles of clothing worn for different concerts or movie roles.  There are posters and film footage and photographs and all sorts of memorabilia.  You are given a set of earphones to wear as you walk through the exhibit and a lot of what you hear is Bowie himself speaking about his life, his choices and/or the items you are viewing (very interesting), although sometimes you're hearing music that conflicts with the music being played in the area in which you are standing, which leads to a rather loud cacophony of noise assaulting your eardrums (very annoying).

We were advised that no photographs were allowed so I behaved myself with my camera.  Luckily, this blogger posted some pictures of what you might find inside, if you want to take a peek.

I was never what you'd call a Bowie fan.  My roommate during and after university had several of his albums and often played his music, so I was familiar with some of the Ziggy Stardust stuff but never really understood it.  Of course, I was aware of and enjoyed a number of his hit singles over the years but the only album I actually own myself of his is "The Best of Bowie" from 2002, and a number of those songs were ones I hadn't heard before.

I went to see him in concert about ten years ago because the man I was dating wanted to go and I really enjoyed it (although I was disappointed that he didn't perform "Space Oddity") but before last night, I didn't know that much about Bowie personally.  (For instance, I didn't know that his left pupil is permanently dilated as a result of being punched in the eye as a teenager.)  He is obviously a very complex and talented personality, someone who has refused to be slotted into any of the convenient categories into which superstars are frequently pigeonholed and an artist who has explored several different avenues based on his own interests and talents, reinventing himself as he went and without caring if his choices would be commercially viable.

My favourite part of the exhibit was at the end, a large room with floor to ceiling screens showing footage of Bowie performing in concert, together with a number of the actual stage costumes from those performances on display.  It's like being at one of his concerts and it's easy to see why he is as popular as he is.  He may be odd, he may be difficult to categorize but he is a very charismatic man as well as a talented performer.  He is...David Bowie.

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