The periodic table of David Bowie


David Bowie is the artist and the canvas. And both are on display in “David Bowie Is.”

But if you can’t get to the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago to see the touring exhibit of his life and work, there’s good news.

The film of the “David Bowie Is” exhibit comes to you, at 7 p.m. tonight – Wednesday, Nov. 19 –  at the Oriental Theater.

Bowie is more than a prolific, iconic and charismatic musician – although he is all that. From his characters, his costumes and his concerts he absorbed, reflected and predicted the course and evolution of 20th century popular culture.

He emerged from the rubble of post war Britain to personify the possibility of becoming an exception to the rules.

“It was possible to be a kid like we were in the suburbs and get out,” says one exhibit patron in the film. “We were brought up to be clerks, to be nobodies.” Bowie showed “lower middle class boys like us could have interesting lives.”

In the process Bowie became something no one had seen before.

The seminal moment for many  patrons – the film was shot at the Victoria and Albert Museum of art and design in London where the exhibit was originally mounted – was Bowie’s landmark performance, with dyed red hair and a one piece skin tight jumpsuit, on the prime time show “Top of the Pops,” of “Starman.” (Watch it below)

“We’d only just got color TV and to actually see someone like that on screen was probably life changing,” says one patron. “I felt spoken to through the television set,” says another.

And when the sexually ambiguous Bowie put his arm around guitarist Mick Ronson it was practically transgressive.

The message was clear: It’s O.K. to be different, and here’s how it’s done.

“David Bowie Is,” drawn from his personal archives is immersive biopic, led by the exhibit curators Victoria Broackes and David Marsh. It covers signature moments in his career, features halls full of totemic items – lyrics to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” scrawled in child’s composition notebook, a test pressing of the first Velvet Underground album – outlandish costumes – by, among others, Alexander McQueen and Kansai Yamamoto – whose designs influenced artists today and there is even a periodic table of the artists he influenced and influenced him.

But Bowie was also a blank slate onto which the audience reflected their own needs and expectations.

The “David Bowie Is” exhibit is the sum total of all of this.

“David Bowie Is” trailer


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