David Bowie Exhibit at MCA Review – Tribute to a Music and Fashion Icon

Without a doubt, British singer, David Bowie, is one of the most extraordinary and fascinating icons of today. His career spanned the areas of pop, music, fashion, art, and theater. Quite the pioneering and influential performer, he has inspired millions across the globe with to his contemporary and creative imagery and reinventions.

 

Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973. Design: Brian Duffy and Celia Philo; make up: Pierre La Roche. Photo: Brian Duffy. Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive.

 

David Bowie, 1973. Photo: Masayoshi Sukita. © Sukita / The David Bowie Archive.

 

Bowie’s personal and reinvented styles make him a perfect fit for the Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MCA) current exhibit, which is on display from September 23rd, 2014 to January 4th, 2015. The MCA is located at 220 East Chicago Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago is also the exhibit’s only American stop on the international tour, which includes the cities of London, Toronto, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Berlin, Paris, Melbourne, and The Netherlands.

 

I attended artEdge 2014, a Bowie-themed fundraiser gala and the exhibit on Saturday, September 20th, 2014. The gala was presented by Louis Vuitton and provided a rock ‘n’ roll glam style, with an infamous Studio 54 themed tent. Deep red and black designs popped out at me. The tent was filled with sparkling chandeliers, chairs with animal prints, and fluffy pillows. Blue and white dramatic lightening completed the look. When I walked in, Bowie’s song, Fame, was being played, and I felt the interiors were spot on in terms of his personal style.

 

 

The gala interior. Photo: Jim Prisching, © MCA Chicago

 

The gala interior. Photo: Jim Prisching, © MCA Chicago

 

The gala interior. Photo: Jim Prisching, © MCA Chicago

 

The evening included a reception of cocktails and hor d’oeurves on the MCA’s Kern Terrace and Sculpture Garden, a special dinner by Mr. Chow, catered by Blue Plate Catering, and a special concert by music legend, Bryan Ferry. Chicago’s household names in arts, culture, and philanthropy, and co-chairs, were on the guest list including Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Nancy Crown, Caryn Harris, Liz Lefkofsky, and Cari Sacks. After the meal, guests were able to view the exhibit. Proceeds from the gala benefit MCA exhibitions, performances, and educational programming.  

 

 

The gala dinner. Photo: Jim Prisching, © MCA Chicago

 

The gala dinner. Photo: Jim Prisching, © MCA Chicago

 

 

Bryan Ferry. Photo: Jim Prisching, © MCA Chicago

 

After spending some time in the gala tent, it was time to move on to the crème de la crème of the evening for myself: the David Bowie exhibit! I had been looking forward to this exhibition for months, and it was well worth the wait. The entrance of the exhibit on the 4th floor of MCA greeted me with a magnificent gift shop filled to the brim with Bowie-inspired memorabilia, books, attire, home decorations, posters and wall art, jewelry, coasters, his music albums, and other knickknacks. The store displayed fantastic decorations such as light bulb studded hanging chandeliers, and my favorite: silver and gold chocolate covered almonds from the Cocoa Atlanta Chocolate Company. (They looked too beautiful to eat!) 

 

  

David Bowie Museum GIft Shop

 

   

David Bowie Museum GIft Shop

 

  

 

  

 

  

David Bowie Museum GIft Shop

 

The entranceway to the exhibit rooms had walls of bright orange, white, and pink typography and orange photographs of Bowie. The first room I encountered involved Bowie’s early years experimenting and building his musical identity. I saw rare photos of him and his first two bands, such as The Kon-Rads, and artifacts that showed his aspirations in art, theater, music, technology, and culture after World World II.  I also saw early personal sketches of his of stage sets and costumers for his bands. There were also a lot of interesting materials that focused on his first hit single, Space Oddity (1969) that was based on Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (This is one of my favorite songs of his).

 

   

Installation view, David Bowie Is, MCA Chicago. September 23, 2014 - January 4, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

 

  

Installation view, David Bowie Is, MCA Chicago. September 23, 2014 - January 4, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

 

The next set of rooms showcased Bowie’s continuing creative journeys with song lyrics, musical recording, and productions, as well as his designs for one-of-a-kind costumes, staging sets, and album artwork. This section was absolutely fabulous. I loved seeing all of his original song writings, costumes, photography, and album covers. They all perfectly communicated his controversial, contemporary, and in your face images, delving deeper into his androgynous, dual role and blurred lined gender roles and sexuality. He was constantly experimenting and changing his image and identity with fictional characters such as Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, Aladdin Sane, among others. Bowie went through (and continues to do so!) several different image transformations and has left quite an impression on social mobility, gender identity, and gay liberation/rights.

 

   

Original storyboards by David Bowie for the Ashes to Ashes video, 1980. Courtesy The David Bowie Archive. Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

 

  

Asymmetric knitted bodysuit, 1973. Designed by Kansai Yamamoto for the Aladdin Sane tour. Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum.

 

My favorite costumes in the exhibit were the Ziggy Stardust ensemble (a blurred image of gender roles), his curvy and stiff Aladdin Tour bodysuit designed by Japanese designer, Kansai Yayamoto (curvy lines of black and silver), the mime costume from his Scary Monsters…(and Super Creeps) album cover shoot, and the union coast designed by the late Alexander McQueen

 

  

David Bowie, 1973. Photo: Masayoshi Sukita. © Sukita / The David Bowie Archive.

 

  

Metallic bodysuit, 1973. Designed by Kansai Yamamoto for the Aladdin Sane tour. Courtesy The David Bowie Archive. Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

 

  

Striped bodysuit for Aladdin Sane tour, 1973. Design: Kansai Yamamoto. Photo: Masayoshi Sukita. © Sukita / The David Bowie Archive 2012.

 

There were also pieces showing his interests in Surrealism, Brechtian Theater, avant-garde mime, including musicals he had starred in, German Expressionism, and Japanese Kabuki performance. Bowie enjoys when people make their own interpretations of his songs, and rarely gives a straightforward, literal meaning or message. I especially enjoyed the little theater room that showed clips from the films he starred in.

 

   

Installation view, David Bowie Is, MCA Chicago. September 23, 2014 - January 4, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay. Courtesy of the MCA Chicago.

 

  

David Bowie during the filming of the Ashes to Ashes video, 1980. Photo: Brian Duffy. Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive.

 

The grand finale of the exhibit for me was the last room, which was a colossal entertaining titan of projections that celebrated Bowie’s career as a performer on stage and in films, including choreography and songs from his live tours, which were shown on gigantic screens mounted on the walls, along with more of his tour costumes. Previously unseen storyboards were also displayed for viewing from tours such as Diamond Dogs and Station to Station.

 

  

Promotional photograph of David Bowie for Diamond Dogs, 1974. Photo: Terry O'Neill. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum.

 

  

Installation view, David Bowie Is, MCA Chicago. September 23, 2014 - January 4, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay. Courtesy of the MCA Chicago.

 

  

Installation view, David Bowie Is, MCA Chicago. September 23, 2014 - January 4, 2015. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

 

The David Bowie Is… was one of the most inspiring, entertaining, and eye-opening exhibits I have ever attended. It showcased a man who has always experimented outside the box, and does not care what anyone else thinks of him. He continues, today, to experiment with his image and identity through music, performance, and other inspirations. It is a feast for the eyes of Bowie fans and non-fans alike.

 

 

Museum of Contemporary Art

220 East Chicago Avenue

Chicago, Illinois, 60611

Phone: 312-280-2660

 

David Bowie Exhibit/Museum Hours:

 

Monday: Closed

Tuesday/Thursday: 10am – 8pm

Wednesday: 10am – 5pm

Friday: 10am – 10pm

Saturday/Sunday: 9m – 6pm

 

On tour from September 23rd through January 4th, 2015.

 

Tickets are $25 which also includes general admission to the museum.

 

For more information on the David Bowie exhibit or on the MCA, please visit the MCA website.

 

Photos: Jennifer Lunz (unless otherwise noted)

 

 

 

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