David Bowie Retrospective

As Toronto’s AGO kicks into high-gear for the opening of the highly anticipated David Bowie exhibition courtesy of the V&A Museum there is increasing excitement and celebration of all things Bowie.

 This past Tuesday night, I was privy to an exclusive first look at the gallery exhibit, a special tour led by famed rock photographer Mick Rock.

Mick was on the scene from the early days and witnessed the rise of a number of rock legends including Bowie. Forging these relationships early on with the emerging icons of the seventies gave him unparalleled access to artists like Bowie, among others.

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Mick Rock in front of one of his iconic Bowie photos at the AGO

 

Many of Mick’s photographs are some of the most recognizable images of Rock n Roll history, having captured the most famous and boundary-pushing rock legends that musically and aesthetically helped defined the mood of their generation –artists like Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Freddie Mercury.

Sennheiser presents a retrospective of Mick Rock's photography at the Templar Hotel

Sennheiser presents a retrospective of Mick Rock’s photography at the Templar Hotel

Amidst iconography ranging from Bowie’s dazzling and ever-changing wardrobe to some of his never before seen personal artworks like the painting of James Osterberg (Iggy Pop) during their most creative years, I was struck with how well curated the collection at the AGO seemed, spanning as far back as the fifties.

As Mick noted during the tour, the primary reason the exhibition even exists as such is a tribute to Bowie’s immaculate preservation of the pop-cultural artifacts that spoke to his life as a glam-rocker and pop icon.

Mick also made a very keen observation about Bowie’s ever-changing aesthetic and musical style. More than the Stones or the Beatles, Bowie’s influence as an artist has made a wide-ranging impact on music and popular culture.  In one of the exhibit descriptions Bowie is described as having layered musical, artistic and even theatrical influences creating a catalyst for creativity, breaking the rules in order to give way to something altogether different.

 

What is striking as you walk through the show is the constant re-imagining that fueled Bowie’s art. He would often declare his retirement only to become reinvigorated and inspired by other artists such as German countertenor Klaus Nomi, whose stage persona inspired Bowie’sThe Man Who Sold The World performances.  Other unforgettable characters included Ziggy Stardust, Bowie’s alter ego and the driving force behind the album of the same name, a seminal work that was motivated by deeper concerns regarding sexuality and social politics.

 

AGO presents 'David Bowie Is'

AGO presents ‘David Bowie Is’

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I have had the good fortune of meeting Bowie in person several times between 1995 and 2005 as well as attending some of his concerts, each moment captured another dramatic evolution in his personal style.

 

TSL with Bowie through the years

TSL with Bowie through the years

 

TSL collection of signed David Bowie memorabilia

TSL collection of signed David Bowie memorabilia

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Bowie has since been characterized as a recluse by the media. His avoidance of publicity, however, just adds to the mystique of the coolly androgynous star in an age of over-exposure, self-obsession and the social media hype machine.

Even as recently as March of this year with the release of his 24th studio album, Bowie avoided all press and publicity and yet the world came clamoring for his music. I think it speaks volumes that Bowie’s work stands on its own without the media push of public relations and marketing monoliths, maintaining what so few artists in today’s media-saturated culture can sustain …mystery.