The Victoria & Albert Museum poster for David Bowie is dons a world famous image of the man as his most well know creation. Lightening bolt make-up splits the porcelain face of a flame haired Ziggy Stardust. Immortalised by photographer Brian Duffy, Ziggy stares back at you from the Â£4 print. I wanted one of these posters more than anything on Earth, but as always you exit though the shop and I had a whole exhibition to take in.
The reason this would have been useful is that as the exhibition was so popular, it was absolutely heaving with people. I had to queue just to get near to the exhibits and blurbs that accompanied them. It's a shame that the exhibition's draw actually hindered it so much. It was extremely frustrating standing in a mass of people waiting for someone, anyone, to move! The rooms got bigger as you progressed through, but the first room's small horseshoe shape did not encourage ease of movement through the displays.
This first room documented the beginnings of Bowie's interests, musical and otherwise, his childhood and the cultural context of these. However I was so overwhelmed by the crowd, the text-laden boards, background music and sudden outbursts from my headphones I could hardly take anything in. I can tell you that Elvis (born on the same day as David) only stepped foot in the UK to change planes. Honestly there was so much going on that's about all the information I gleaned.
Many elements of the exhibition were of things that influenced the shape of Bowie to come. They are scattered about the place in an erratic way, a Warhol print here, oh and one of his films over there. Orwell's 1984 printed big under that costume and a pile of J.G Ballard novels stuck to a wall. Some of it was decorative and some of it felt, dare I say it, thrown in. I did learn new things about Bowie's first venture into theatre and the influence of Kubrick's Clockwork Orange on this, which was interesting.
There were moments which came together well. On occasion the mega mix track being pumped into the room would sync up with the handwritten lyrics you were reading. It obviously couldn't happen to everyone or for everything I cast my eyes over but there was something pleasingly perfect about the two times it did take place.
it almost felt like the David Bowie Archive had flung open a chest of stuff
What you can learn from my headphone experience; don't be precious about taking them off when it gets too much, you can just pop them on again later. The other annoying thing about them was the prim and proper English lady whose voice would appear unexpectedly offering you extra info from someone Bowie knew. You'd then press the magnifying glass button as instructed and sod all happened. Thanks lady, thanks for nothing!
I found it hard to get my head around the disjointedness of the exhibition; I think I'd have appreciated a nostalgic chronological walk down memory lane. I found the exhibition at its most effective and engaging when, excuse the reference, sound and vision were used together in the most simple of ways. Midway through the exhibition I found sanctuary in the Space Oddity display. A mannequin in turquoise suited up, with handwritten lyrics displayed in front of a screen that played the striking music video - pre-empting the MTV generation, made itself comfortable on its '80s sofa. I think the most noticeable difference from the rest of the exhibition is that this song was played in full. I really enjoyed it.
The final room was much more spacious and the sheer scale and spectacle of it completely made up for the sense of dissatisfaction I had felt at the start. By now I was used to my headphones, a 50 foot Bowie serenaded me and then two little side rooms contained two of my favourite Bowies: Berlin Bowie - including paintings of Iggy & Brian Eno's synth and Film Bowie - where I, once again, came face to face with the Goblin King and, for the first time, one of his awesome orbs! The concert-like experience of the last room was the pinnacle of an exhibition that had been a huge undertaking, taking on new ways to engage its audience and showcase 50 years of music, fashion and culture.
There is an array of costumes on display in the final giant room, but they line the tall walls - I urge you to bring binoculars! I truly believe there is so much to get out of this exhibition, it almost felt like the David Bowie Archive had flung open a chest of Bowie's stuff and had just told the V&A to take whatever they fancied. This is exactly what you should do, don't try and take it all, go to the exhibition and focus on the man and the music you love. If you get the chance go back a second time do, you really can't see it all in one go. I will go back not just to learn a little bit more about one of my favourite musicians of all time but to get my Â£4 poster. By the time I did exit through the museum shop, they had sold out.
Squeamish Nicola You can visit David Bowie is at the V&A until 11 August 2013