Hallo Spaceboy: Brooklyn Museum welcomes a stellar David Bowie exhibit

Brooklyn Paper
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Lights, camera, action: The “David Bowie is” exhibition, at Brooklyn Museum until July 15, opens with a striking sign and an outrageous outfit.
In style: Many of Bowie’s famed outfits are on display at the exhibit.
Covered up: The museum is displays the art for each of Bowie’s many albums.
Who is David Bowie?: The exhibit strives to complete the sentence “David Bowie is” throughout, with placards talking about the numerous facets of his iconic existence.
Sights and sounds: A ticket to “David Bowie is” includes a sonic tour of the objects on display. What you hear changes depending on where you are in the room.
Never before seen: The Brooklyn Museum incarnation of “David Bowie is” includes some never before seen material, including the original sheet music for “Space Oddity.”

The Starman has touched down in Brooklyn!

After a five-year world tour, the “David Bowie is” exhibit has made its final landing at the Brooklyn Museum. The enormous exhibition displays more than 300 artifacts from the late rock icon’s five-decade career, including his instruments, costumes, writings and more. “David Bowie is” got its title because the polymorphous singer, actor, and artist David Bowie is so many things, said the curator of the London museum that initiated the project.

“It’s a statement and an unfinished sentence because it can’t be finished,” said Victoria Broackes, of the Victoria and Albert Museum. “It’s an answer in which everybody brings their own.”

“David Bowie is” shows off a treasure trove from the Starman’s personal archive, including original costumes, handwritten music, set designs, photos, and album artwork. Once you enter the exhibit, on the Museum’s fifth floor, you immediately see Bowie’s name lit up in bright, white lights. Many of the signs, placards, and images throughout the exhibit are orange, a steady theme throughout Bowie’s long career, said the Museum’s chief designer.

“Throughout Bowie’s album covers, one color stands out more than others: orange,” said Matthew Yokobosky, pointing to the orange lightning bolt painted on Bowie’s face for the “Aladdin Sane” album cover.

Each section covers a different era of Bowie’s career, with a different attempt to complete the title: Next to a collection of this stage costumes, a sign reads “David Bowie is making himself up.” Another, beside a series of photos, reads “David Bowie is floating in a most peculiar way.”

Some of the coolest artifacts in the collection are a banjo that Bowie played on the BBC in 1981, the Union Jack coat he wore on the cover of his “Earthling” album, stage costumes from the “Ziggy Stardust” tour, and the handwritten sheet music for the guitar and violin parts to “Space Oddity.”

The Brooklyn Museum version of the show also features some objects not included at its previous stops, including lyrics and set lists.

And the exhibit is more than a visual tour of Bowie’s career — each visitor gets a pair of headphones that plays Bowie’s music hits and snippets from his interviews, with the audio changing depending on where you are in the room. For example, when you approach the slightly worn, yellowing sheet music for “Space Oddity,” you suddenly hear “Ground control to Major Tom” in your ear, followed by the rest of the song.

The passage through Bowie’s life ends in a dark room, with footage of him performing on an enormous screen. It is as captivating visually as it is sonically.

Bowie supported the dual audio and visual approach, according to Broackes.

“He wanted sound and vision to be as much a part of the story as photos and costumes,” she said.

Tickets to the exhibit start at $20, and are scheduled to allow entry every 15 minutes throughout the day. Based on pre-sales, “David Bowie is” is already the Brooklyn Museum’s most successful exhibit, according to a spokeswoman.

“Advance sales for ‘David Bowie is’ have been the most successful to date compared to any exhibition presented at the Brooklyn Museum. A few days prior to opening, the Brooklyn Museum sold over 20,000 tickets,” said Fatima Jones Kafele.

The exhibit’s journey from London to Brooklyn echoes Bowie’s life and artistry, said those who worked on the show.

“He expressed his wish that it would open in London and close in New York,” said Brooklyn Museum director Anne Pasternak. “It followed the arc of his career.”

“David Bowie is” at Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Pkwy. at Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights, (718) 638–5000, On display through July 25. $20–$25. (VIP $35–$2,500).

Reach reporter Adam Lucente at or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow him on Twitter @Adam_Lucente.
Updated 5:48 pm, July 9, 2018
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