One of the first things you see when you enter the Tokyo branch (Warehouse Terrada Gallery, Tennozu Isle) of the touring David Bowie exhibition is one entire wall taken up with a quote from novelist J. G. Ballard. The quote, taken from a 1966 book review in the New Wave Science Fiction magazine New Worlds, declares that “The Surrealist painters were the first iconographers of inner space.”
This sets the tone for the entire exhibition; cerebral. The emphasis is on the inspiration for Bowie’s works, and the possible reasons for why they defined the cultural zeitgeist of each decade in which he lived. The show starts with a handful of post-WWII ration books and a poster touting the reconstruction of Britain, leading on to early Rock and Roll vinyl, a video clip of performance artists Gilbert and George and vintage Penguin paperbacks of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Absolute Beginners. There are more paperbacks from J G Ballard, screenprints from Eduardo Paolozzi, still photos from the Apollo Moon Landings, and posters for the films 2001:A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange, demonstrating how they pushed a young Bowie into becoming the shape-shifting hyper-cultural mutant that we all remember.
The glass display cabinets hold the lyrics to his songs scribbled on yellowed sheets of loose-leaf paper that resemble medieval illuminated manuscripts. There are sketches and mock-ups of his album covers. There are cardboard set designs for the major tours. Everything is laid out for us, and we are inundated by information, but it doesn’t fatigue us because it’s all good.
As well as the intellectual aspect, the exhibition showcases a great many of the iconic costumes Bowie wore on stage and screen. This being Japan, the pride of place goes to the Tokyo Pop jumpsuit and other Kabuki-inspired costumes from Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto (along with an interview video clip in Japanese, with English subtitles. There is Halloween Jack’s eye patch, the Thin White Duke’s black and white tuxedo, the Hamlet-inspired military jacket in which he sang ‘Cracked Actor’ on the Serious Moonlight tour, Alexander McQueen’s creations from the Nineties … there are too many to list here, and even to remember.
One point (not a criticism); unless I got lost and didn’t see it, there wasn’t a lot of material from the Nineties. There was analysis of the ‘1:Outside’ album (deservedly), and an account of the making of the minimalist ‘Next Day’ album cover. I was expecting, however, a full-on review of the mysteries of the ‘Blackstar’ album, and there wasn’t one. Maybe that’s because it was covered in Francis Whately’s recent ‘Last Five Years’ documentary had covered it so extensively?
The last room was an immersive live experience that had floor-to-ceiling footage of concerts from the Seventies. I stayed until after watching the 1973 Hammersmith Odeon performance of ‘Rock and Roll Suicide’ … and that seemed to be a good time to leave.
Oh no love! you’re not alone
No matter what or who you’ve been
No matter when or where you’ve seen
All the knives seem to lacerate your brain
I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain
You’re not alone
Just turn on with me and you’re not alone.
SCENES FROM THE GIFT SHOP …