David Bowie is…at the V&A

David Bowie is…” is what, exactly? This is the question the V&A is asking with its current block-busting exhibition.

David Bowie is… colourful? Yes. David Bowie is… charismatic? Certainly. David Bowie is.. pronounced BOH-ie or BOUGH-ie? I’m still not sure.

Whichever way you pronounce it, this little name is big enough to be the fastest-selling ticket in the V&A’s history, with the most recent numbers indicating nearly FIFTY THOUSAND  of them have been sold already.

David Bowie poster
David Bowie is… the price of a ticket

David Bowie is… the price of a ticket

According to the literally accurate but monetarily vague poster in the foyer, David Bowie is… the price of a ticket.

“But how much is a ticket?” I hear you ask.

Well, ticketing prices can be found on the exhibition’s site. Interestingly, we can work out roughly how much the V&A have made from the musician before the show has really got going.

Bear with me, I’m going to get all Carol Vorderman on you.

50,000 x £15.50 = £775,000

David Bowie is… nearly a million pounds and counting.

But is it any good? Our intrepid explorer investigates…

Braving such modern dangers as the Tube at the weekend, snow and inevitable queues, we set out with high expectations. Luckily, the Underground was working OK, the snow wasn’t too bad, and the queues… were enough to induce a mild panic attack. A long line of people could be seen in the tunnel that connects the V&A to South Kensington station.

David Bowie is... on the Tube
David Bowie is… on the Tube

“Oh Bloody Hell” I thought, “Is that the queue?”

It turns out it was not. The actual queue was much smaller than I expected and we only had to endure it for 5-10 minutes. After being handed our nifty Sennheiser headsets we were about to discover what David Bowie is… all about.

David Bowie is… literally quite something

My exposure to Bowie in my life so far has been limited at best. I’ve never really got much closer to him than Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (the Magic Dance number is clearly a career highlight that can’t be topped) and Sarah Harding’s cover of Boy’s Keep Swinging (the less said about which, the better).

I was coming at this with fresh eyes and ears, wondering what Sound and Vision awaited me.

Visually, the exhibition was stunning, but we all know the V&A can do spectacle well. Bowie’s costumes -although faded- still retained some of their original magic and the mannequin’s grey Bowie masks were suitably creepy.

Living in a post-Gaga world as we do, it’s hard to imagine the world without an oddly dressed performer doing odd things. Granted Bowie never wore an outfit made from meat, but his androgynous look and idiosyncratic style was something the world had never experienced before. “David Bowie is a freak” declared the 1970s BBC in tones richly drenched in disdain and disgust.

David Bowie is many things

As I mentioned above, I was coming at this exhibition afresh. David Bowie seems to be a shape-shifter, a chameleon, a lot of things I don’t quite understand. So, I decided to keep track of all the things the V&A said he was. Here are the results:

David Bowie is?
David Bowie is?

So what is David Bowie?

Although the show was fascinating and I learned a lot, I can’t say that David Bowie is perfect. The Sennheiser headsets automatically played the audio content, but I found that if I shifted weight from one foot to the other, sometimes the audio would completely change, which was unsettling and confusing, but that was my only complaint really. 

Earwigging in the gift shop post show revealed some interesting reviews… “like a fan-written wikipage that needed to be fact-checked” said one commenter. Another (or possibly the same one – it was hard to tell in the crowded shop) felt they were “being forced to read a book on Bowie and it’s like, you know what, it’s not that interesting.”

Ouch. I quite liked it.

(Fun facts, I counted 44 things the V&A claimed David Bowie is during the exhibition, how many did you count?)

The V&A always do great souvenirs, and the ones for David Bowie Is are no exception. You can see the David Bowie Is Badges at the Museum of Museum Badges.


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