David Bowie is a virtuoso of reinvention. In his five-decade-long career, the singer has mastered the art of creating performances around alter egos and fictional narratives, with choreography, set design, and costumes to go along with them. Starting today, fans can get an up-close-and-personal look at the singer's multifaceted history with "David Bowie Is," an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. More than 400 pieces—including costumes, album artwork, photography, set designs, and hand-written lyrics—are on display.
"This exhibition portrays an artist in control of his practice who recognizes that the smallest details contribute to the overall aesthetic experience of the audience," says Michael Darling, a curator at the MCA. "This exhibition repatriates David Bowie, the music innovator, into the territory of cutting-edge visual and performing art that is his natural home."
Bowie has often toed the line of androgyny, which is evident in his on-stage costumes and album covers, and the rock legend also paved the way for designer-musician collaborations: Alexander McQueen designed the Union Jack coat (below, left) featured on 1997's Earthling album cover, and Hedi Slimane, Giorgio Armani, Thierry Mugler, and Issey Miyake have also created pieces for the singer.
Lesser known designers such as Freddie Buretti, Natasha Korniloff Pierrot, and Kansai Yamamoto also fulfilled Bowie's need for costumes as fantastical as the personas he brought to life. After seeing Yamamoto's work in a 1971 London exhibition, Bowie hired friends to recreate the designs; he then collaborated with Yamamoto on seven sculptural tour costumes inspired by Japan, including the striped jumpsuit pictured at top and the blue, red, and black coat pictured above (at right), both of which he wore on his Aladdin Sane tour. Many of these custom-made ensembles are on display at the MCA.
"David Bowie Is," which was originally curated by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, is open from Sept. 23, 2014, to Jan. 4, 2015, at the MCA Chicago. Visit mcachicago.org for more information.