‘David Bowie is…’ a vast insight into a complex artist

David Bowie is is a simple, yet fitting title. At its core, the Art Gallery of Ontario’s big ticket exhibition is about definition and identity – and for David Bowie is, identity is a fluid and complex thing.

David Bowie is an artist. David Bowie is a visual artist. David Bowie is a musician. David Bowie is pop musician. David Bowie is rock musician. David Bowie is a folk musician. David Bowie is an entertainer. David Bowie is an actor. David Bowie is a shape shifter. David Bowie is a mask-wearer. David Bowie is Ziggy Stardust. David Bowie is The Thin While Duke. David Bowie is a style icon. David Bowie is a creator. David Bowie is a provoker. David Bowie is an icon.

The vital first room superbly introduces the visitor into the complexities of a Mr. Davie Jones. From here, David Bowie has proven his ability throughout his career to draw from multiple influences whether it was 1984 or the American space missions or Andy Warhol or the Dadaist art movement or Kabuki theatre. He is a multidisciplinary artist who did not place parametres on  what or who David Bowie is or could be. A paraphrased quote that stuck out in my mind was Bowie’s assertion that he wanted to do more than write pop songs. There was so much more to the imagination.

David Bowie Is poster
No photos allowed in the exhibition, but a promotional poster outside was worthy of a snap. He is forever.

The ‘ping’ moment for me came on the fifth floor while watching a performance of “Boys Keep Swinging” and reading about Bowie’s tendency to dress in drag. It was amazing to see the hand written lyrics to “Rebel Rebel”. ‘She’s not sure if you’re a boy or girl’ sums it well; David Bowie tested his audiences to figure out what exactly he was. Whether he was dressing in drag or appearing as half-man, half-dog, David Bowie could not be simply defined.

The audio guide was not your typical audio guide. Like Bowie himself, it was very innovative. In the large ‘live performances’ room, one can read a sentiment of Bowie’s that asserts his desire to generate visuals based on how his music sounded. This need to create a full experience is echoed with the area triggered sounds of the guide and the imagery of the exhibition that perhaps, for me, only became overwhelming when having to process text with the headset on.

All in all, David Bowie is is an extraordinary exploration into a great figure in popular culture. Even with the hour and fifteen minutes spent, I was not able to take in everything as wanted. But this only speaks to the richness of the exhibition. Bravo AGO.

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