Last year, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum was given carte blanche with David Bowie’s artifacts and personal effects. The result was a blockbuster exhibition of his rich and bizarre artistry and influence. Following London, Paris and Chicago, Melbourne is the next city to play host. Short of waiting for Bowie himself to tour (hint: we could be waiting a long time), this might be the closest you’ll get to the man himself.
After previewing David Bowie Is with ACMI curator Emma McRae, we’ve highlighted five key pieces to look out for.
A Delta Lemon
On the walls of the exhibition you’ll find original costume sketches drawn by Bowie for some of his very first forays into music in the early 1960s. Worth looking out for are the cowboy-esque outfits for 16-year-old Bowie’s band, The Delta Lemons. “He was starting new bands all the time,” says McRae, “Changing their looks, getting new hairdos, writing new songs because they didn’t match the look. Right from the start he was always thinking about presentation and performance.”
For many Brits, the moment Bowie appeared on Top of the Pops dressed like an androgynous astronaut was the moment he won them over. The costume from his performance of Starman was designed by Freddie Burretti and inspired by the Droogs in A Clockwork Orange. Colour TV was new, “And here was a man wearing make up, gesturing towards homosexuality,” McRae says. “Teenagers growing up in the suburbs didn’t need to see reflections of their daily urban lives ... They wanted escapism.”
Yamamoto’s Aladdin Sane
Another year, another outlandish costume. In the ’70s, Kansai Yamamoto was a sought-after designer, re-appropriating traditional Japanese outfits into ultra-modern designs. On display at ACMI is perhaps the greatest Bowie- Yamamoto collaboration: a kabuki-inspired black-and-white bodysuit. “Bowie was inspired by Japanese samurai and kabuki designs. He also learnt a lot of his make-up techniques from Japanese theatre,” says McRae. “Yamamoto was slightly surprised to see a man wearing these costumes. He was creating an image that was different from everything.”
In 1972, Andy Warhol invited Bowie to The Factory to take part in a screen test for a series of films which would involve him simply staring into the camera. The two didn’t exactly hit it off. The result was Bowie taking charge and performing a mime of Japanese seppuku, or ritualistic samurai suicide. “It’s showing Bowie’s feelings about the meeting going wrong,” says McRae. “But he’s always performing, and you never know if he’s being honest or not.”
Bowie’s music video for Let’s Dance, shot in Sydney by director David Mallet, features a group of Indigenous kids finding a pair of red shoes in the bush and being thrown into a whirlwind of white imperialist daydreams. Exclusive to ACMI, storyboards and notes belonging to Bowie and Mallet will be on display. Also on show is evidence of Bowie’s influence on Melbourne’s own post-punk scene, specifically photographs from the three-week-long ticket queue for Bowie’s 1978 show at the MCG.
David Bowie Is runs at ACMI from July 16 until November 1. Tickets are on sale now. Broadsheet proudly presents Bowie Late Nights at ACMI.