This is practically after the fact, given that it closes next month, but I finally got around to checking out the David Bowie Is exhibit out at the Brooklyn Museum. Herewith some observations.
I could bore with gripes about how getting to the Brooklyn Museum from Manhattan on a Sunday afternoon was an arduous slog, given the laughable inefficiencies of the MTA, but, chances are, if you’re a New Yorker, you’re already painfully aware of that. Instead, I’ll bore you with other gripes…
I’d originally been encouraged to get four tickets for the purposes of attending with the whole fam-damily, so to speak, but as we got closer the date, the wife started leaning towards demurring, as the kids have a lot of end-of-school year activities going on. This made sense, although I had already dropped the cash on the tickets, so I went with my former colleague Jamie instead. In retrospect, this was for the best. Not only would the afore-mentioned trek to the museum have sapped the enthusiasm for certain members of our party, my 12-year-old son might not have fully appreciated the multiple nuances and period-specific minutia of the presentation. He’d probably have been confused and/or bored by much of it, and that would’ve invariably hampered my own enjoyment of the proceedings. My daughter (14 years old) might’ve been more invested, but, alas, it was not to be.
Actually, another reason it was good they didn’t come was that -– as expected -– it was CRAZY GODDAMN CROWDED. While this wasn’t necessarily surprising, it did have something of a tempering effect on the whole thing. Not unlike trying to navigate one’s way down the High Line, moving through the various rooms of David Bowie Is meant sharing the space, impeding the elbow room and trampling on the laces of legitimate hordes of other people. It also meant collectively challenging the capabilities of the museum’s air-conditioning, as heavy concentrations of people do tend to raise the temperature (let alone sweat). It was very warm and, again, very packed.
What this ultimately meant was that every time you might have wanted to pause to read, watch or listen to something with any semblance of intent, you were invariably impeding the view, progress or personal space of at least two or three other people. This did not lend itself to the fully immersive experience the show was designed to present.
This many paragraphs in, you might be wondering … “Did he enjoy anything about the show?”
OF COURSE I did. Since first hearing my older sister’s copy of the seminal Changesonebowie compilation in the mid-70’s, I have been singularly transfixed by the music and mystique of David Bowie. As weepily detailed in the post I penned in the wake of the great man’s demise, I cannot think of a single pop-cultural figure who has left as significant an impact on the world as Bowie. Beyond my unwavering fandom for his work (even some of his arguably middling albums), practically every single artist I count as a favorite has been at least informed by Bowie.
Anyway, blah blah blah..., basically, I am precisely the variant of irritatingly pedantic Bowie fanboy that this sort of exhibit is tailored to. And while there was much to see, hear, experience, soak-up, I did find myself put off by some iffy chronology, some incongruous artefact placement, the frustrating layout (requiring repeated passage through certain chambers in order to fully progress) and more time and attention devoted to certain eras over others.
Oh, and the gift shop which you –- naturally -– exit though didn’t have a single t-shirt that wasn’t XXL, …. all conventional sizes snapped up, I am supposing, by previous show-goers. I’d have thought they’d have re-stocked, but alas, nay. I was particularly besotted with a shirt with the sleeve art from Low which featured Bowie’s name rendered in the same font from the poster of “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” Insufferable rock knowitalls like myself will recognize that font as the same that adorns the sleeves of every album by Iron Maiden. As romanced as I was by this, the only variety of size on offer of it would have fitted me like a mumu. The online shop suffered the same blight. Again, it was not to be.
But, not to be such a Debbie Downer, I did indeed thrill to see some of the original outfits (notably the heavy armored tuxedo from his SNL performance with Klaus Nomi & Joey Arias, the creepy harlequin costume from the “Ashes to Ashes” video and a few of his famously styling suits, like the one sported on the back cover of Pin-Ups), lots of rare, archival video, the enigmatic paperback he brandishes from the “Blackstar” video (I’d have enjoyed learning more about all that) and, most of all, the original artwork –- which is huge -– from the cover of Scary Monsters.
Having been to comparable exhibits like this, notably the Ramones show at the Queens Museum and last year’s amazing Exhibitionism show of Rolling Stones ephemera at Industria in the West Village, I have to say that David Bowie Is might have suffered slightly from the limitations of the space the Brooklyn Museum afforded it. It’s not going to happen, but I’d be curious to experience it in its next port of call, … wherever that might be.
In the end, even with my misgivings, was I glad I went? Absolutely.
I don’t think I’d have been able to live with myself if I’d missed it.
Would I go again?
You should go and see for yourselves.
Seeing this on a huge screen was new for me...