David Bowie fell in love with New York City on his first visit, “discovering a city I had fantasized over since my teens,” as he wrote in New York Magazine in 2003.
He made the city his home, only leaving for work, so it’s fitting that the Brooklyn Museum is the final stop for the mammoth exhibition of his life, “David Bowie is.”
“David Bowie knew that a great song was even greater when it looked good,” said Brooklyn Museum’s Matthew Yokobosky at a press preview on Wednesday.
He could just as easily have been talking about the exhibit itself, which is delightfully bright, informative and stylish, packing something for everyone from devotees to the Bowie-curious.
While the nearly 500 objects on display include personal items — from the photo of Little Richard that Bowie “treasured” as a boy to the cocaine spoon he kept in his pocket during the recording of 1974’s “Diamond Dogs” — the real focus is his creative process.
Victoria Broackes, who started developing the exhibit in 2011 as senior curator at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum where the show opened, said, “We aimed to create an exhibition that was crucially about inspiration, process and impact.”
Visitors are greeted with Bowie’s name in lights over the op-art “Tokyo Pop” bodysuit (designed by Bowie favorite Kansai Yamamoto) created in 1973. It is the first of nearly five dozen costumes worn by Bowie’s various stage personae, including the quilted jumpsuit he wore while singing “Starman” in July 1972 on the BBC’s “Top of the Pops.”
Dozens of display cases hold Bowie’s lyrics, scrawled in ink with an adolescent script, and storyboards and imaginary creatures, sketched out with fertile abandon, like his detailed plans for an unrealized film set in “Hunger City.”
There are plenty of completed videos too, from Bowie as a mime in 1969’s “The Mask” to footage of the only time he and Andy Warhol met to “Saturday Night Live” appearances.
Present throughout, playing on headphones provided to all exhibition visitors, is Bowie’s music. It’s an ambitious — but fallible — feature, with specific tracks triggered by physical proximity to certain objects.
The coup de théâtre comes near the end where concert footage of Bowie performing “The Jean Genie” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” among others, is projected onto a wall-sized screen while immersive audio rains down from nine speakers while more than a dozen Ziggy Stardust costumes keep watch from the back of the room.
“David Bowie is” offers many fascinating insights, from what he and Iggy Pop had for New Year’s dinner in 1978 Berlin to what he and composer Laurie Anderson drew while they talked on the phone.
But the overarching, inescapable conclusion is that he was a hyper-creative sartorial adventurer and a damn fine rock ‘n’ roll explorer.