ACMI’s big 2015 Winter Masterpieces exhibition remains a secret right up until the media are led into a dark cinema above Federation Square. Excited whispers begin to circulate – we’ve been told that the exhibition will focus on an extraordinary, influential artist and pop culture icon.
MP Louise Asher, Minister for Innovation, Tourism and Major Events steps up to make the announcement. Some of the whispers were right – it could only be David Bowie. “This will be an unprecedented insight into the life, music and art of one of the world’s great performers,” she says. ACMI’s five-month loan will be the only showing of the exhibition in Australasia.
The glittering lightning-flash photograph from the British pop icon’s 1973 Aladdin Sane cover fills the screen, and the first notes of ‘Let’s Dance’ start to play. We’re plunged into a quick-fire montage of Bowie’s many personas: the androgynous, alien Ziggy Stardust; the stylish, monochrome Thin White Duke; the spiky-haired goblin king of the 1986 film Labyrinth. Fittingly, the exhibition is titled David Bowie Is – a reference to his constantly shifting identities, myriad artistic projects and the fact that the pop star means different things to fans all over the world.
David Bowie Is was devised in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and has already pulled hundreds of thousands of fans from around the world. Since then, it has travelled from Toronto to Sao Paulo, and will soon make its way to Paris. Wherever it goes, it sells out. Figures like Jean Paul Gaultier have described the showcase as “absolutely incredible…fabulous”, and one UK journalist admitted that “the sheer grandeur brought a tear to my eyes.”
In an effort to immerse visitors inside Bowie’s imagination and creative process, the rooms are divided into distinct eras of his career. Seamlessly integrating sound, film and movement, the journey begins with Britain in the aftermath of the Second World War. Visitors will get right up close with early photographs and Bowie’s stage and costume design sketches. Never-before-seen lyrics, diary entries and letters will sit alongside film excerpts and interactive audio-visual displays of his ambitious music videos. Of course, there’ll be costumes: more than 50 in fact – the most important being his Ziggy Stardust jumpsuit, which he wore on BBC One’s Top of the Pops in 1972. For many, his flame-orange hair, make-up and red patent boots were a total revelation.
Naturally, tickets to David Bowie Is are expected to sell out, and ACMI anticipates visitors from all over the Asia-Pacific region, too. Pre-sale registration is open now, and stay tuned for a program of curator talks, film screenings and special events.
David Bowie Is, ACMI, Jul 16-Nov 1 2015. Pre-sale registration on now.