Monday, April 8, 2013

Bowie at the V&A

“The Church of Man, love, is such a holy place to be,” sung the boy David when he was on a very different planet to the rest of us mere earth-bound mortals. The “David Bowie Is Inside” exhibition currently running at the V&A in London has at its physical and spiritual heart an enormous shrine to the Starman himself, never mind the supposed holiness of the masses.

Vast screens beam down to the worshippers projections from the astral plane of mega rock stardom as David struts his stuff in a variety of legendary and not so legendary live performances. Frankly, I was happy to be one the massed ranks of the faithful, making obeisance to a secular God who not only hasn’t failed but actually seems to have more power with every new rubbing of his relics.
 Throughout the exhibition there is an enormity of wardrobe function and malfunction reverently on display, encased in protective glass, thereby lending them all an air of holy object. The most fascinating section of the loosely themed displays for me was (naturally) the Berlin period. Covering arguably four albums but usually obsessed about as just two – Low and Heroes – this era fascinates me more than the cartoon spaceman that is the behemoth called Ziggy. “Berlin” is like a kind of side altar at the Holy Sepulchre, not the focal point for most of the devotees, but that special space where you can cross yourself semi privately and be grateful that you at least got close to the main act.

Speaking of bits of the true cross, the funniest item in the whole exhibition for me was a discarded tissue stained with lipstick. This, a printed card factitiously informed us, was used by David in 1975 during his Young Americans tour. I recall a relative keeping a similar cast-off from Anita Dobson’s handbag outside a London theatre. Of course I would have done the same; maybe not Anita’s though.
Exit stage right for the most important item in the V&A catalogue: The Gift Shop. This was nearly as popular as the central video shrine. £280 for a reprint of Aladdin Sane on card encased in cellophane anyone? I bought myself a fridge magnet of Bowie’s brogues and exited. I had been, to my surprise, uplifted, entertained, and, less surprisingly, reminded of his greatness. Not much had been displayed inside relating to David’s latest incarnation, The Next Day, nor that much about his often unfairly maligned 1980s product (the album Let’s Dance is allowed to sneak in as a good quality dalliance signposting supposed spiritual wastelands to come). 

Quibbles aside, and plenty can be made, this was actually a good value bit of sound and vision that gave this middle aged thin white dude plenty to still get thrilled about.