David Bowie Is Chicago: Art or Hype?

David Bowie Is Chicago: Art or Hype?
Photo credit: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Call it what you want, art or hype, the "David Bowie Is" exhibition at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) has all the bells and whistles and then some.

The exhibition is BIG...big money to put it together, big space to contain the more than 400 objects, big crowds, and big expectations.

There are those who question the motives of the MCA for "rocking the boat" by mounting the "David Bowie Is" exhibition on its only stop in the U.S. saying David Bowie is not an artist. Although, it can be argued that Bowie is not an artist in the purist sense, his influence on art and pop culture over the past half century can not be argued.

After viewing the exhibition it becomes evident that Bowie had an uncanny ability to draw from what was going on at the time--often ahead of the times--predicting and creating trends and movements.

Love him, hate him, or not sure who he is, "David Bowie Is" is worth a visit.

Upon entering the exhibition, which spans the vast 4th level of the MCA, visitors will feel an energy not often felt in an art museum.  Immediately they are immersed in a 3D world of advanced sound technology by Sennheiser which enables them to experience a multi-faceted journey of Bowie's sound and style--along with cutting-edge video that complements the extensive collection of artifacts from Bowie's archives.

"David Bowie Is" is organized mostly in chronological order starting with the creative aspirations of the young David Robert Jones (born in 1947 in Brixton, London) in the aftermath of WWII. On display are early photographs, sketches for stage sets and costumes, Bowie created for his bands The Kon-rads and The King Bees.

Jones (Bowie) with his band the Kon-rads in the early 1960's. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Jones (Bowie) with his band the Kon-rads in the early 1960's. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

When David (Davy) Jones officially changed his name to David Bowie in 1965, he also began his series of  personal changes from mod to mime to folk and finally R&B. Pulling from events of the day and inspired by Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, Bowie released his first major hit, Space Oddity, in 1969 to coincide with the first moon landing.

From there, the exhibition moves on examining Bowie's innovative creative process through his hand written lyrics, word collages and rare performance materials.

Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

Many of his fictionalized stage personas including his most famous 1972 creation--the androgynous, otherworldly Ziggy Stardust are on view.

bowieziggy

On display, in addition to the poster is the original multi-colored suit he wore for Starman on Top of the Pops along with outfits for stage characters Aladdin Sane and The White Duke.  Other costumes, press clippings and fan material document Bowie's transformations, social mobility and impact on gay liberation.

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

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

The ‘schizophrenic’ 1973 Aladdin Sane cover gave birth to the ‘lightening flash’—a design recognized around the world and used over and over in various forms and displayed by celebrities including Lady Gaga and Kate Moss.

The lightening flash--Album cover 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.

The lightening flash--Album cover 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.

The breadth and scope of Bowie’s art drew upon many of the important touchstones of the 20th Century. Bowie reached ahead and back finding inspiration from Fritz Lang’s 1927 film Metropolis and George Orwell’s 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, for the design for his 1974 Diamond Dogs tour.  He also had a large impact on the world of fashion. His collaboration with top fashion designers around the world is highlighted throughout the exhibition--one of many is the original Alexander McQueen "Union Jack" coat worn on the Earthling album cover in 1997. (Pictured below)

Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997. Union Jack coat design: Alexander McQueen in collaboration with David Bowie. Photo: Frank W Ockenfels 3. © Frank W Ockenfels 3.

Original photography for the Earthling album cover, 1997. Union Jack coat design: Alexander McQueen in collaboration with David Bowie. Photo: Frank W Ockenfels 3. © Frank W Ockenfels 3.

Expect to spend 90 minutes or more to fully experience the full scope of the exhibition. Remove your earphones for the finale to "David Bowie Is" where you'll step inside an immersive audio-visual space featuring giant projections of some of Bowie's most ambitious music videos.

Throughout the run of the exhibition, the MCAwill also offer a series of Bowie-related talks, events and performances at the museum and around town.

Tickets and hours...

"David Bowie Is" will be on view September 23, 2014 to January 4, 2015. Timed tickets are available online or by calling 312 397 4068. Prices are $25 adults; $10 for ages 7 to 12;  and children 6 and under free (tickets include museum admission).

The MCA has extended their hours during the exhibition (closed on Mondays):  Tuesdays: 10 am - 8 pm; Wednesdays: 10 am - 5 pm; Thursdays: 10 am - 8 pm; Fridays and Saturdays 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Saturdays; Sundays: 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Subscribe to Show Me Chicago by email

If you would like to keep in touch with what's happening in Chicago, like us on Facebook or subscribe to Show Me Chicago by email. To subscribe, type your email address in the box below and click the "create subscription" button. Our list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Leave a comment