with Real Studios
Mark Grimmer (59)
Lead Designer (3d)
Mike Hawkes (Real Studios)
James Roxburgh (59)
Molly Einchcombe (59)
Lead Designer (video)
Lysander Ashton (59)
Associate Designer (video)
Ben Pearcy (59)
Zsolt Balogh (59)
Marco Sandeman (59)
James Long (59)
MCA Chicago, September 2014
After record-breaking runs at the V&A in London, the AGO in Toronto, MIS in Sao Paolo, and the Martin Gropius Bau Berlin, the David Bowie is Exhbition has opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
The design of the exhibition draws influence from Bowie's myriad artistic influences: Surrealism, Expressionism, the Beat Poets, Cabaret and Kabuki Theatre amongst many others. Over the course of a year-long period of research and development, 59 Productions' Mark Grimmer led the design process, working closely with Real Studios' Mike Hawkes, interpreting and expanding upon the brief provided by the exhibition's curators, Geoff Marsh and Victoria Broackes.
"The idea was to combine the curators' intellectual approach to Bowie as a cultural taste-maker with an aesthetic that was theatrical, informed by visual material that we knew to have been influential for Bowie. In that sense, the exhibition design is both an expression of Bowie the artist, and a reflection of his own process of cultural appropriation and re-imagination", explains Mark.
The exhibition combines a significant amount of set design with a number of video projection installations, creating an almost dreamlike environment which visitors are encouraged to explore in a non-linear fashion. An eclectic selection of over 300 objects, mainly lent by The David Bowie Archive, including handwritten lyrics, drawings, costumes and set designs are brought together and presented within a series of distinct environments which reflect Bowie's constantly changing identity and omnivorous consumption of culture.
As well as the physical design - characterised by angular architecture and a cool monochrome palette, accented with hints of 'Ziggy Orange', the exhibition features several bespoke animated sequences which incorporate photographs, film footage and digitised versions of paper objects. Projected onto a blank, abstract room set, a 4 minute animated film takes the visitor on a journey through Bowie's younger years - from a bedroom in suburbia to the nightclubs of Soho, via the spongelike imagination of a boy who went on to change cultural history. Elswhere, a series of giant boxes housing 6 of Ziggy Stardust's iconic costumes doubles up as a 9m high projection screen onto which rare live performance footage is projected.
The overall aim of the design was to reinforce the exhibition's central message: that Bowie, unlike any other artist of his generation has had, and continues to have, a profound influence on our lives. The exhibition was never intended as a retrospective - David Bowie Is and his presence will continue to be felt for many years to come.
"Making our way through the winding and visually stunning look into Bowie's life and cultural impact, accompanied to great effect by high-tech, location-detection-enabled sound, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer mass quantity of information being thrust at you."
"The exhibition is sculptural, immersive and dramatic. Your run-of-the-mill gallery exhibit, this is not."
"The crown jewel of the exhibit’s audio experience, though, comes at the very end, when you step inside a large room and are immersed in a sensational video concert experience. All four walls feature video panels that reach some 15 feet toward the ceiling, while towering speakers dish out the accompanying audio utilizing a new system Sennheiser is calling “3D audio” that more than fills the space with superb sound. No matter how many times you’ve heard radio staple “The Jean Genie,” the version here—from Top of the Pops in 1973 and featuring close-up shots of Bowie in long hair and dangling earring—is mind-blowing. It’s for good reason there are benches in this room, so patrons can sit down to take it all in."
“David Bowie Is” easily earns a gold star as the most technologically advanced audiovisual exhibit in memory. As you move through the show’s 25 different display zones, your Sennheiser headphones immerse you in a dynamic soundscape of music and interviews corresponding to the eye-popping visuals (including two vast galleries with giant digital displays) in your immediate vicinity. It’s not often that you see museum-goers bobbing their heads and occasionally busting a move, but that’s what happens in “David Bowie Is.” Let’s dance."
“David Bowie Is” is the most successful exhibition in the MCA’s 47-year history, with some Bowie-related programs and performances selling out in less than an hour as well as the highest sales for the MCA Store. The response in the Chicago community to the exhibition has been overwhelming. Restaurants, venues and hotels all had events that were inspired by the man himself. People showed up to MCA events dressed as Bowie’s many stage personas and 52 million Twitter accounts viewed the hashtag #DavidBowieIs.
"A triumph...The curators of this thrilling show have raided David Bowie's archive for the first time, and its depth is astonishing."
"All the exhibits, presented using cutting-edge technology by – among others – the team behind the video projection at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, add to that sense of a fertile intelligence, changing constantly, shaping the world... The sheer grandeur brought tears to my eyes. I felt as I felt when I first saw Bowie live – simply glad to be in the same building as a man who could make music like this. If you are not a Bowie fan, you might not cry. But I can’t believe you will walk away from this stunning exhibition without understanding a little of why he inspired those of us who love him."
"The blockbuster element of the exhibition comes in a huge room recreating the spectacle of a Bowie live show, with multiple screens covering the walls and screening unseen footage of Bowie in Philadelphia in late 1974, just as he ditched glam and moved towards the plastic soul of Young Americans...David Bowie Is leaves the visitor dazzled, impressed and just a little bit confused, which is surely what the man himself would want it to do."
**** The Times
"At the core of the exhibition is a ceiling-high video wall screening some of Bowie’s most spectacular concerts, including the 1973 moment when he ‘killed off’ his Ziggy Stardust persona live on stage. And every half hour or so comes a thrilling ‘Heroes’ interlude, when every screen in the show displays a different performance of perhaps Bowie’s most rousing and inclusive song, including at Live Aid and the Olympics opening ceremony. But the littlest touches can also be moving, such as the sight of the keys to the Berlin apartment Bowie shared with Iggy Pop in 1976. Like all Bowie’s best tunes, this show works on multiple levels– it’s packed with intelligent stimuli, but is also enjoyable purely as a consummately presented slice of pop entertainment."
"David Bowie Is ends in triumph. The floor-to-ceiling screens showing live footage are genuinely awe-inspiring, a final room collects together umpteen examples of how his influence has leaked not just into music but everyday life: fashion, packaging, video game design, advertising. As it turned out, the plan about communicating ideas that Bowie outlined in the Beckenham Arts Lab proposal seems to have worked out perfectly."
"Bowie’s amazingly beautiful face appears in massive close-up on a floor-to-ceiling screen, moments from his finest performances are shown on a video-wall that also displays his most covetable stage outfits, and there’s a final display of the suits that clothed so many vivid personas over the decades. I looked up at the 20-feet-high image of Bowie in his blue cricket flannels and thought of Julius Caesar: “Why man, he doth bestride the narrow world/ Like a Colossus; and we petty men/ Walk under his huge legs and peep about…” The V&A exhibition is chaotic and overly respectful, but when it comes to conveying his epic stature, they’v e done the former David Jones of Brixton very proud."
"It’s an exhibition that is thrilling and sensorial, with sound and vision working together to immerse or — dare I say — baptise you, in Bowieworld. But it’s not, I realised, about one man, it’s about all of us; all of us who invested so much and learned so much at his tutelage. As I left I thought about what the show’s open-ended title implied: David Bowie Is... you."
"The most striking thing about the show is that it is brought to life by technology and united in sound and vision in a way rarely seen in a museum."
"The most thrilling major musical event of 2013."
"I’ve been to all the rock’n’roll museums around the world, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in New York, the Grammy Museum in LA and the British Music Experience in the O2 in Greenwich (the tent in Kent), and this makes them all look like poor Madame Tussauds knock-offs. Who wants to see Johnny Cash’s cowboy boots, Chuck Berry’s waistcoat or a flight bag supposedly once used by Jimi Hendrix, when you can immerse yourself in not just David Bowie’s entire ouevre but also pretty much everything that contributed to it?
There has been such a lot of hyperbole surrounding the V&A show that I assumed it couldn’t live up to expectations. Yet it is as clever and as immersive as the “Postmodernism” show they held a couple of years ago. It is a proper multimedia extravaganza, and for Bowie obsessives like myself is probably the final word on the man (in a good way).
"It’s an important exhibition; I think it will stick in people’s minds for a long time. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world."
"Beautifully immersive…the exhibition is [more] like an impression of Bowie himself: constantly surprising, fun, curious and compelling. Whatever kind of a Bowie fan you are - hell, even you're not - book a ticket now."
"Bringing in 59 productions and the team responsible for the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony means that David Bowie is… uses the media generated by Bowie and his collaborators to fantastic effect. The show culminates with a video display the height of an apartment block with some of Bowie’s incarnations – Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, The White Duke et al – dancing across the screen, engulfing you in their image."