The Genteel
April 12, 2021


Installation shot of the V&A's David Bowie Is exhibition. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

In 1976, David Bowie left Los Angeles for a life-changing sojourn in West Berlin. Sober from drugs, excess and his omnipotent fury, he found a place of inspiration and renewed creativity in his German home. To explore the multifaceted personality of the popular rock star, Cristina Fei chatted with Victoria Broackes, co-curator of the retrospective "David Bowie Is" at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

Read Part One of the interview here.

David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust.

Cristina Fei: What impact did Bowie's Berlin experience have on his music, style and design?

Victoria Broackes: The trilogy Low, "Heroes" and Lodger from this time (only "Heroes" (1977) was actually recorded in Berlin, at the great Hansa studios), stands out in Bowie's work as being a period of unprecedented artistic and musical experimentation and personal rejuvenation.

Bowie was inspired by Berlin's past as well as its present, but its importance for him lay also in allowing him to escape from Los Angeles, stardom and drug dependency. In the exhibition we have a section dedicated to the Black and White years (which includes [the album] Station to Station) - an expressionist style structure, with film, graphics and objects to evoke Bowie's Berlin: a blend of liberal Weimar German culture and art, the dark histories of both Nazism and Communism, and his everyday life recording, painting, and exploring the city. We have his apartment keys and some of the paintings that he did there. 

CF: How did Bowie represent the "glam era"?

VB: Bowie and Marc Bolan (T. Rex) pioneered the sound and style of 'glam rock' between 1972-73. The theatricality, androgynous sexuality and flamboyance of Bowie's stage costumes went beyond Bolan's in pushing the boundaries of what men could wear and how they could perform on stage. Fans adopted his look as a statement of individuality and rebellion.

Music critic and historian Jon Savage recently published a list of the 20 best glam rock songs for The Guardian, six of those were written or produced by Bowie. Having defined the style, he abandoned it in 1974 at the height of his success as Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane.

David Bowie has a radical individualism which has inspired others to challenge convention and pursue freedom of expression.

CF: Do you think Bowie's androgynous look was a symbol of sexual liberation and freedom of expression?

VB: David Bowie has a radical individualism which has inspired others to challenge convention and pursue freedom of expression. His impact on music, fashion and style is huge. On display in the exhibition will be more than 60 of his exceptional stage-costumes, not only the Ziggy Stardust bodysuits (1972) designed by Freddie Burretti and Kansai Yamamoto's flamboyant creations for the Aladdin Sane tour (1973), but also the Ashes to Ashes Pierrot costume by Natasha Korniloff (1980). These costumes demonstrate the legacy of some of his radical innovations in fashion and his theatrical displays of androgyny. 

CF: What mark has his outlandish style left on fashion?

VB: One of the most interesting things about Bowie is his individualism. He doesn't do what other people do and he doesn't tell other people what to do! He says be who you are and by the way, you can be whoever you want to be. But he leads by example, and he looks fabulous in clothes and he always looks supremely cool. 

We're showing the mug shot in the exhibition of Bowie when he was arrested and he even looks cool in that. The evidence of his impact on fashion is everywhere, even the Creative Director of our exhibition sponsor Gucci, sites David Bowie as a major source of inspiration. 

CF: The exhibition is sponsored by Gucci. How did Frida Giannini, Gucci's Creative Director, react to the idea of such an innovative show?

VB: For Frida Giannini, Gucci's Creative Director, David Bowie has been one of the most influential musical artists of the modern era and so her interest in the exhibition was a very personal one. She states that his radical vision has had and will continue to have a significant impact on popular culture, including a number of Gucci's ready to wear collections.

Installation shot of the V&A's David
Bowie Is exhibition. Photograph ©
Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

CF: This is the year of David Bowie. In what way can his new album "The Next Day" still have an impact on the cultural mores of Western society nowadays?

VB: Bowie continues to fascinate and inspire us for many reasons. One is his radical individualism. He has challenged convention and pursued freedom of expression, and inspired others to do the same. That remains a vital and challenging message in western society. Add to that his powerful creative influence on contemporary artists and designers and his deep interest in all aspects of twentieth century culture. He always responds creatively to new technology and is always personally and actively in charge of what he creates.

The astonishing longevity of his career - which the release of "The Next Day" has affirmed - is in part due to his unflagging interest in, and astute sense of, the direction in which our culture is moving, indeed, in 'the next day'. David Bowie is a musical innovator and a pioneer, a cult performer who is also enormously popular - almost a unique position. 

We have been planning the exhibition for three years as our headline spring exhibition of 2013, but obviously the release of the new album makes this exhibition even more relevant than ever.

Read Part One of the interview here. "David Bowie Is" will show at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London until August 11, 2013.



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