The ongoing David Bowie IS exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art will be on display until January 4. It is the biggest ever MCA ever exhibition, including over 400 objects such as album art work, photography, concert footage, and even some paintings by Bowie himself. The show includes clips from some of his most famous videos including Ashes to Ashes (my favorite video ever) and (yech) Let’s Dance. Although the exhibit chooses objects from Bowie’s personal achieve, he did not have input into it and he is not expected to appear at the show.
But there will be many Chicago musical performances in which other artists will cover Bowie songs including Bobby Cohn (on November 17), Jon Langford and Sally Timms of the Mekons (on November 21), and Disapeers (November 22). Tickets for each show are $20. For a complete schedule of the events go to the MCA website at http://mcachicago.org/.
Even weeks before the David Bowie exhibit opened there was a huge buzz around the exhibit, and I heard lots of talk about it in all the galleries around Chicago. Most of the artists I talked to resented to fact that someone like David Bowie got a show, and they argued that what Bowie did wasn’t really art.
I learned that many artists have a view of art that is more narrow as the general public’s, ,and I can’t help but think that there is also a bit of professional jealousy involved.
One of my friends even said dismissively “Bowie is just the rock’n roll Liberace.” This echoed John Lennon’s famous statement that Bowie’s work was just rock ‘roll with lipstick.
Despite the unevenness of his work, I would argue that Bowie was a major multimedia artist, and no one has done more than him to bring the avante garde to the masses. I still remember his sensational SNL appearance with Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias in 1979. Although I was only about 15, I knew it was one of the most wonderful, mind blowing, visionary things I would ever see on TV. It’s certainly the best musical performance that ever appeared on the show even though it was stupidly left off the moronic SNL DVD musical anthology.
Who else but Bowie would think to reenact/pay homage to a major Dadaist performance piece (Tristan Tzara’s Gas Chambered Heart) on national TV along with a pair of arty drag queens? He performed three songs and two of them were in artificial bodies (one was a puppet) Here’s a clip of the three songs in the performance. Regrettably, the “Boys Keep Swinging” performance deletes the line “All the boys check you out.” It was very thoughtful of the show censors to save the audience from the dangers of sexual ambiguity.
Years later in one of the weirder moments on adult swim, a cartoon version of David Bowie faced off against two villainous facsimiles of Klaus Nomi and Iggy Pop. The cartoon also incorporated quotes from their songs in the dialogue (Iggy says he’s tired of playing the idiot)
Check it out here.
Part of the David Bowie exhibit shows clips from the SNL show and gives some pertinent info on the appearance.
I got to see the press preview of the David Bowie show on Tuesday, and I’ve been meaning to write about it all week, but I have found the task to be daunting and difficult. I’ve been thinking about the pop icon all week, but I think I got swallowed up in the immensity of the whole affair.
Overall, I liked the show and it is mandatory viewing for Bowie fans and anyone who is interested in the growth of inter/ cross disciplinary art. But if you’re a fine art purist you might want to go see the current Magritte exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago instead (which I also highly recommend.)
I’m fully aware that no exhibit can be all things to all people, but I think the Bowie show builds him up as an individual genius, and it deemphasizes the massive contributions of his collaborators and influences (such as Iggy Pop, Marc Bolan, Lou Reed, Carlos Alomar, Robert Fripp, Brian Eno and later on, Trent Reznor) who were often as nearly as responsible for Bowie’s best works as he was.
You also don’t get a sense of just how horrific and shocking Bowie’s gender bending antics were back in the early ‘70s (although in one of the more amusing clips, a somber and respectable looking newscaster suggests Bowie purposely made himself into a freak to gain popularity.) Back then (as Alice Cooper found out) it was less horiffic to chop off doll heads onstage than dress as a woman.
The exhibited text pieces do show his connections to the other artists but they never come off in his
texts as his equals.
This reminds me of how the media reports on Tommy Ramone’s death seemed to
saying that the dead Ramone‘s biggest contributions was influencing Green Day and Blink 183 (and of course the Ramones were infinitely more important that those bands.) In America a pop artist’s success is me seared mostly by how many units they sell. If you don’t sell tons of records your part in rock history is more likely to be underestimated. Good thing Fame hit number 1.
The show takes a chronological approach to Bowie’s career and the show attempts to shed light on the process involved in creating Bowie’s art. The exhibit displays many relics from his pre career such as posters of his heroes such as Little Richard as well as his literary influences and antecedents (there’s many books on display including works by Ballard and Orwell). There are also some original instruments and hand written lyrics from important songs (such as “Ziggy played guitar.”)
Some of the most interesting parts of the exhibit display his fantastic costumes and give historical accounts of where the ideas for them came from (before the show I didn’t know how Kansai Yamamoto’s body suit came about).
Other parts of the show are trite and unnecessary. Do we really need to see Bowie’s coke spoon or a document showing his name change or his concert set lists? This material may only be appreciated by Bowie completists (and there are many.)
Also for better or worse walking through the rooms and seeing how little there is on the last 30 years of Bowie’s career, you can get a sense of how Bowie’s output quality and quantity has diminished. With few exceptions he did his best work between 70-80 (although I still adore the Cat People theme song), even though he achieved his biggest popularity in the early 80s with the entertaining but slick, and shallow “Let’s Dance,” which might be his first release not to break any new ground (he must have gotten a corporate makeover.)
The exhibit concludes rather inspirationally with concert footage from many of his most remarkable tours. David Bowie Is is overwhelming, and it’s easy to get lost in it. It also made me a bit hopeful by reminding me of the enduring quality of great art (and marketing),
In honor of the exhibit I just might watch a chameleon in a pet shop for a few minutes. I wonder if Pussy Riot will ever get this kind of exhibit?