David Bowie’s huge archive donated to the V&A Museum

David Bowie’s vast collection of personal items – including extravagant Ziggy Stardust costumes, handwritten lyrics and the stylophone used in “Space Oddity” – has been donated to Britain’s Victoria and Albert Museum from the late rock artist’s estate.

The V&A will exhibit more than 80,000 pieces in its new center in east London from 2025, most of which have never been shown to the public. It declined to state the value of the archive.

The pioneering musician, whose ideas also influenced film, art and fashion, has been a die-hard collector of material relating to his creative process and output for over six decades. He died of cancer in 2016.

Bowie’s archive includes letters, set designs, thousands of slides, contact sheets, and slides from photographers such as Terry O’Neill and Helmut Newton, and costumes from fashion designers Alexander McQueen and Kansai Yamamoto.

David Bowie wears the striped bodysuit designed by Kansai Yamamoto for the 1973 Aladdin Sane tour

David Bowie wears the striped bodysuit designed by Kansai Yamamoto for the 1973 “Aladdin Sane” tour © David Bowie Archive/PA

There are also “intimate notebooks” filled with Bowie’s ideas, projects and reflections that the V&A says would shed new light on his creative thought process, as well as “cut” lyrics, an experimental songwriting process introduced to Bowie by author William Burroughs.

Among the guitars, amps and other gear is Brian Eno’s synthesizer from Bowie’s 1977 album Low.

Kate Bailey, V&A Senior Curator of Theater and Performances, said it was “unprecedented” for a global artist to preserve an archive on such a scale.

“He kept and documented his creative process, whether it was an album cover, lyrics, set design, or a look. . . The fact that he had the vision to document and archive it is incredible,” she said, adding that Bowie was a lens through which many cultural genres could be explored.

A treasure trove of pop and rock history is housed and displayed in a newly created David Bowie Center for the Study of Performing Arts at the V&A East Storehouse in Stratford, east London, with the exhibits being rotated regularly.

The center is set to open in 2025 and is being funded with £10million donated by record label Warner Music Group, owned by Bowie’s Songbook and the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

Cut out lyrics for

Cut out lyrics for “Blackout” from David Bowie’s 1977 album Heroes © David Bowie Archive/PA

Bowie had a longstanding relationship with the V&A, allowing them access to its items to host a temporary exhibition in 2013. David Bowie iswhich became one of the museum’s most popular shows, attracting 2 million people across 12 international venues.

Bailey said the show broke new ground with its multimedia display. Visitors heard various tracks by Bowie – transmitted via headphones provided by German partner Sennheiser – as they walked between rooms.

Bailey said the V&A has yet to develop a similar approach to displaying the archive, but added, “In the spirit of Bowie, we need to do something that follows his creativity and vision.”

She said detailed plans for displaying the collection are still at an early stage, but that the center aims to digitize objects and written documents as part of its conservation work and improve access to the archive.

“His music is sustainable. But when you start to make sense of his visual journeys and personal research, it takes on that other kind of richness.”

https://www.ft.com/content/a9a638b4-183b-4d05-aac3-414c5db1d3e5 David Bowie’s huge archive donated to the V&A Museum

Brian Ashcraft

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