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By James Cerche
16th July 2015

DAVID BOWIE IS the centre of attention at Melbourne’s 2015 Winter Masterpieces offering at ACMI. The ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition is a stunning collation of artefacts and costumes from Bowie’s personal archives, curated by London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. The current Melbourne exclusive event has been seen previously by over 1 million people worldwide, having opened to raging success in the likes of London, Chicago, Paris, Sao Paulo and Berlin.

The atmosphere of excitement was immediately arresting as we descended the steps into Gallery 1 to hear opening addresses from ACMI Director/CEO Katrina Sedwick, Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley and V&A representative Dr Kathryn Johnson. They spoke to us about the project’s inception while the iconic Kansai Yamamoto striped bodysuit stood casually to their left, only serving to build enthusiasm as local performer Geraldine Quinn treated us to a neat reimagining of ‘Let’s Dance’. Above the bodysuit reads a quote from Bowie in 1995 that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the man and the intense relationship that has been formed with his work by multiple generations: “All art is unstable. It’s meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author. There is no authoritative voice. There are only multiple readings.”

Before they turned us loose, we were provided with personal location-sensitive headsets that would feed us the words and music of Bowie to accompany what we standing in front of. The effect was instantly immersive as we were encouraged to take our own journey around the space. It became clear early on that this was unlike any exhibition I have attended. Everything felt so personal and when the seminal performance of ‘Starman’ on Top Of The Pops in 1972 came on, I could have sworn he was pointing right at me from a different time and place.


The emphasis on “here and now” alluded to by Johnson in her keynote is really what brings this event to life. The curation isn't simply a progressional retrospective. This is a phased engagement with the many aspects of one man’s creative vision displayed in a way that he might store them himself, packed into little compartments in a strange and exciting brain. ‘David Bowie Is’ puts out all the building blocks and pieces that inspired and were eventuated when they came into contact with music’s most important icon.

Part magpie, part chameleon, Bowie assembled everything that had an impact on him, drawing them deep within himself and letting them change him from the inside out so that he lived and became his history. We see Eastern cultures colliding with Western obsessions. Kabuki, Broadway, fine art and restaurant menus are all on display around the items they inspired. The exhibition highlights and runs with Bowie’s desire to be as three dimensional as possible, extending his art in every direction with sound, lighting, fashion, visuals and more filling the creative palette to bursting point.

The energy of the music flows so powerfully through this entire experience (especially in the phenomenal final room) that you just want to rock out. It really feels like you’re in the room with Ziggy, within arms' length of the Thin White Duke and so many other and mesmerising icons in a once-in-a-lifetime treat. This is an emotional experience for the die-hard and bound to be a fascinating journey for the new and the curious. There’s even a special section dedicated to Bowie’s landmark Melbourne show at the MCG in 1978 that features items owned by local fans who queued for weeks to score tickets. It’s these personal touches that make the latest incarnation of ‘David Bowie Is’ the biggest and best yet. This is a version that is infused with the DNA of our city and the relationship Bowie ignited with our country’s popular history.

 ‘David Bowie Is’ will be in residence for its strictly limited season until November 1.

ARTIST: David Bowie
BEGAN: 1962
FROM: Brixton, London
SOUND: Rock / Pop / Experimental
FACEBOOK: davidbowie
TWITTER: @DavidBowieReal
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