RedEye

'David Bowie Is' features Ziggy Stardust in pictures

"David Bowie Is," the exhibition catalog for the "David Bowie Is" retrospective that opened recently at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (currently breaking museum-attendance records, and running through August), is vast. "David Bowie Is," the coffee-table book, is also a pleasant orange. That's the first thing you notice: The front is orange, the back is orange, many interior graphics are orange; on the front, faded into a sunset hue, Bowie as youthful and spiky, that iconic lighting-bolt makeup slashing his face, and on the back, Bowie in his 40s, haggard and stricken. But composed. Always composed. There is not a picture in this doorstop — toothy Bowie at 6, sitting for what appears to be a school photo; cool Bowie at 20, cigarette at his side, staring questionably at the camera on a London rooftop; disguised Bowie several decades later, in a silver wig and disorientingly exact as Andy Warhol, on the set of the movie “Basquiat” — that appears candid or not self-consciously aware that someday, someone will wonder about this image, its meaning and how to replicate it. 


This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.


Indeed, it's hard to say where to begin with this thing, because, as the exhibition's open title suggests, it's impossible to say where Bowie's headed. The book, like the show, is organized more by its themes — influences, style, sexuality — than a boorish collection of rock-star artifacts, though there are those: album covers, concept sketches from videos, mannequins wearing every conceivable Bowie costume.

And the stuff Bowie has kept — he reportedly has an archive of 75,000 pieces — is fun to stare at, the album-shoot contact sheets always telling. But the writing winding between the stuff, from music critic Jon Savage, Camille Paglia and others, lends context and picks away at Bowie with such insight — Paglia writes of Bowie's "genius for using the camera as others use a paintbrush or chisel, not from behind the camera but before it" — that it's a rare hagiography with soul. It's also, without a plane ticket, the closest you're going to get to this exhibition for some time. It's expected to tour, but that, like the man, remains a mystery.

Christopher Borrelli is a Chicago Tribune features reporter.

"David Bowie Is"

Edited by Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh, V & A Publishing, 288 pages, $55

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Aldermen looking to stop stores from getting around plastic bag ban

    Aldermen looking to stop stores from getting around plastic bag ban

    Chicago's ban on plastic bags starts to take effect at many big stores Saturday, but an alderman who helped craft the law already is talking about changing it in order to thwart a few large retail chains that he says are trying to skirt the new rules.

  • State police: Man shot while riding in van on Eisenhower

    State police: Man shot while riding in van on Eisenhower

    A man was shot multiple times while traveling in a minivan on the inbound Eisenhower Expressway on Friday morning, authorities said.

  • Lollapalooza liquor gardening: fact or fiction?

    Lollapalooza liquor gardening: fact or fiction?

    It may sound like an urban legend: Music festival-goers bury bottles of booze in Chicago parks, plot a GPS location for the goods and uncover them days later when the festival comes alive.

  • Chicago plans to cut O'Hare noise by rotating runways at night

    Chicago plans to cut O'Hare noise by rotating runways at night

    The Emanuel administration on Friday will propose an experiment at O'Hare International Airport to rotate the runways used late at night, possibly on a weekly basis, to spread out jet noise, the city's aviation chief told the Chicago Tribune.

  • Almost 6 acres of land added near Fullerton Avenue Beach

    Almost 6 acres of land added near Fullerton Avenue Beach

    Along Chicago's lakefront at Fullerton Avenue Beach, cranes rolled along a causeway that only a few months ago was part of the lake itself. Every day this summer, roughly 40 construction workers are filling in Lake Michigan with dredged material and gravel, which will eventually add up to 5.8 acres...

  • Doughnut panic

    Doughnut panic

    I'm not ashamed to admit that for the past several years, I have mapped my walk to work around which doughnut shop I'd like an excuse to stop at on the way. There's nothing like the thought of a crunchy, craggy old fashioned doughnut or the sweet, yeasty chew of a classic glazed doughnut to help...

Comments
Loading
77°