David Bowie fans, rejoice —it’s David Bowie Day! At least in Chicago, where the Museum of Contemporary Art is now featuring the “Bowie Is” exhibit, an international retrospective of the artist's life and work.
The sprawling exhibition, which first opened last year at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, showcases more than 400 items from the David Bowie Archive, from costumes to personal effects. The Chicago exhibit, which will last until Jan. 4, is the only one scheduled in the U.S.
Fitting its dynamic subject, the “Bowie Is” exhibit features motion-sensor technology that automatically syncs the commentary with your location. A fun bonus: If you remain in one stop too long, the receiver starts playing Bowie songs after the commentary ends, gently urging you to dance along to the next station.
The self-guided tour takes about 90 minutes, if you actually stop to read everything, which you really should to fully appreciate the artist's remarkable career and creative process. The show runs deep, even including a version of Bowie’s customized computer program, the Verbasizer, which he uses to help him write songs. The machine inputs current news headlines and randomly arranges them into new phrases to help Bowie think about words and sounds in different arrangements.
Bowie’s also famously developed a number of characters and alter egos throughout his career, and all of them are represented here, through music, costumes, and performance clips. Mannequins display original outfits next to clips of Bowie wearing them.
Childhood drawings and baby photos offer a peek behind the life of the dramatic rock icon. Paintings by Bowie, which are said to have helped him channel his creative energy during a drug-addicted period in West Berlin, line a room of black walls.
There are also rare records, photos, and magazines throughout, along with movie paraphernalia. Yes, these even include crystal ball and riding crop from his role as the Goblin King in the 1986 cult classic “Labyrinth.”
The last section in the exhibition is a room filled with screens playing excerpts from Bowie’s most recent live performance. It’s a nice cap to a retrospective that truly proves how the artist is a visionary who continues to influence contemporary culture and performance. Oh, and his songs ring in your head for the rest of the day.