Sneak Preview: 'David Bowie is' at the Art Gallery of Ontario

Sneak Preview: 'David Bowie is' at the Art Gallery of Ontario
Photo: Carrie Musgrave
As previously reported, tomorrow (September 25) the David Bowie retrospective exhibit, David Bowie is, will hit the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. At a media event today, Exclaim! got a sneak preview of what to expect from the exhibition. We've shared it below.

Gallery curators Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh "knew about his archive, but had no idea how big it [was]," said Marsh of Bowie's collection in a short interview. The two, Broackes asserted, wanted the exhibition to go "right back to his teenage years," so that David Jones and his to-be-famous alter ego, David Bowie, could be juxtaposed.


And juxtaposed they were. Though the gallery entrance features Bowie's Kansai Yamamoto-designed 'Tokyo Pop' bodysuit from his Aladdin Sane tour (seen above), the ground floor mostly focuses on Bowie's formative teenage years, during which he absorbed the music and culture around him and began his career as Davie Jones. The exhibition is accompanied by an interactive, hands-free headphone guide that automatically begins streaming interviews, music and other sound bites to you as you face the installations, echoing Broackes's sentiment that "we wanted to put sound and vision right at the heart."

After the first two rooms, which find the young Davie Jones deciding whether to be himself or construct a persona — an original letter from September 17, 1965, decides once and for all that he should be referred to as David Bowie — attendees climb a set of stairs to the rest of the exhibit.


It's here that Bowie's cultural impact is felt most strongly. Books that influenced Bowie hang suspended in the air like ideas in the mind's ether, while outfits, letters, record sleeves and more surround you, each designed or written by Bowie's incredible list of past collaborators: Alexander McQueen, Edward Bell, Guy Peellaert, Klaus Nomi, Andy Warhol, Freddie Burretti, Giorgio Armani and Ola Hudson, among many others.


In most rooms, elaborate costumes from Bowie's many concert tours and music videos hung from or clung to mannequins designed after his own physique. Screens played music videos, television performances and concert clips, most notably — and overwhelmingly — in the exhibition's penultimate room.


Three giant concert screens showing performances from Glastonbury 2000, A Reality Tour in 2004, the Serious Moonlight tour in 1983, and the Glass Spider tour of 1987 made the room the most immediately engaging and visually appealing. Attendee headphones played the sound from whichever wall you were furthest from, providing optimal viewing experiences of some of Bowie's most beloved shows.

The exhibition ends with photos from throughout Bowie's career, but it's a periodic table of the elements re-imagined to highlight the individual elements — musical, literary, theatrical or otherwise — that comprise Bowie's alchemical pool of inspiration that illustrate most thoroughly just how far is Bowie's cultural reach.

Book a ticket to see at the AGO here before it closes on November 27.