David Bowie at the V and A: Five things I learnt


(Hopefully that resounded in your head in exactly the right kind of tortured Bowie-esque squawk)

David Bowie in a mustard suit

So a couple of weeks ago I took my friend along to the  members preview of the David Bowie V&A exhibition. Oh Lord, it is good. In fact, good doesn’t do it justice. It’s bloody amazing. Probably the best thing I’ve ever seen at the V&A.

Ever since I’ve seen it I’ve been obsessed with DB. I’ve even been having strange dreams about him. There was a particularly memorable one where London had collapsed to rubble and a 70s-era Bowie roamed the post-apocalyptic streets, giving impromptu gigs to hordes of feral teens.

Anyway there are lots and lots of reviews out there that give you a professional-type overview of the show, so I thought I’d stick to my top five learnings from the exhibition.

1. David Bowie has incredibly childish handwriting

I don’t know what I expected, but his letters are big, loopy, and not joined-up in the slightest. He also loved drawing in biro, which adds to the ‘back of the maths textbook’ feel. What does it all mean? Did his childish creativity never drain away? Or was he off sick the day they taught handwriting at primary school?

davie bowie

You can sort of see what I mean on this hand-written cover for Hunky Dory.

2. David Bowie is absolutely terrifying

I didn’t realise exactly what a pasty, weird-looking, alien sex lizard David Bowie was around the release of Space Oddity. One of my favourite bits of the exhibition was just the video below playing on an old 60s TV set.

You wear headphones which magically play sound when you look at a screen or an object, and I stood in front of this video for ages, totally mesmerised. So were about 40 other people all crowded around. I mean come on, that is some scary charisma.

3. I finally know what’s so great about ‘multimedia exhibitions’

Nearly every exhibition has some kind of multimedia element to it nowadays. Normally it’s a bit of a rubbish add-on, like the creepy moving heads at the V&A’s Hollywood Costume show. But for this David Bowie extravaganza, they’ve really cracked it. The music, video, and objects are all jumbled together in one glorious mixture.

david bowie

The most amazing bit is the last room. Somehow they’ve knocked through the ceiling to create a massive hall which is exactly like being at a huge gig. Seriously, the sound design is uncanny. One wall is covered with an enormous screen, showing footage of Bowie gigs, and the walls are lined with costumed mannequins towering above you on scaffolding. It feels totally epic.

I wonder what was in the rooms above though? If you look up in the last room in the exhibition (which is linked to the big hall) there are some hastily covered over holes in the ceiling…

4. David Bowie had a 26-inch waist

There’s some interesting behind-the-scenes gossip in this interview with the curator, who reveals that they had to get bespoke mannequins carved specially for the exhibition because of Bowie’s tiny waist and ‘powerful thigh muscles’ (*fans self*).

It was worth it, beecuse the costumes are presented really well throughout the show. Here’s the iconic jumpsuit he wore when Starman got in the charts – it’s in a mirrored booth with the TOTP footage playing behind.


Even the mannequins stuck on plinths have something interesting about them, like this one with a creepy golden hankerchief covering its face (apologies for the blurry picture – I was terrified of getting thrown out. We had to queue for two hours to get in)

david bowie gold hankerchief

5. David Bowie moved to Berlin with Iggy Pop in 1977 to try and get off drugs

Probably not the best example of decision-making in the history of the world. The Berlin room in the exhibition is pretty awesome though. It even has the key to the flat they shared, as well as one of Bowie’s paintings of Iggy, and the synth that Brian Eno used when recording the albums.

The other themed rooms are equally great. There’s a movie area that has one of the crystal orbs from Labyrinth, and a letter from Jim Henson telling Bowie how awesome he would be in the part.


Unfortunately it’s sold out online, but you can either queue up on the day, buy your own membership, or find a friendly V&A member with a guest pass and bribe them with cake (I am available for this purpose).

If you can’t get to London, as a consolation prize you should watch these two videos about David Bowie performing as Ziggy Stardust at the Winter Gardens in Bournemouth (RIP). They feature a hilarious voice-over from a bitter journalist who couldn’t hate Bowie more if David had killed his cat and skinned it for a new fur jumpsuit. There are also many crying teenage girls.

Just to finish, I have to show you this quote from a Guardian article about people who know David Bowie, as it made me lol significantly.

david bowie conversation with lou reed


16 thoughts on “David Bowie at the V and A: Five things I learnt

  1. Tempest Devyne (@tempestdevyne) April 16, 2013 / 6:35 PM

    So jealous that I can’t get to the UK to go, so thank you for giving us a sneak peek around what we’re missing. It looks a superbly put together exhibition.

  2. Toni April 10, 2013 / 9:17 PM

    I’m sure you know about fanbloomingtastic.com’s Bowie sewalong?

  3. oonaballoona April 10, 2013 / 2:15 PM

    aaaaah thank you for this virtual visit! love seeing his handwriting, you pulled such interesting tidbits from this. earphones that magically shift? i think you’d find me slowly circling in a stupor, the guards would have to wheel me out.

    • yesilikethat April 10, 2013 / 3:59 PM

      Thanks! Wish you could come and visit, I think you’d love it! The earphones were pretty magical, can’t even imagine how complicated the sound set-up was…

  4. julia April 8, 2013 / 2:45 PM

    thanks for this post… Thanks to google too that make me come and discover your blog …
    As i was trying to get some informations about Bowie V&A exhibition…reviews !
    Thanks for your review !!!!
    Just a question from someone (me) you bought online a membercard to the V&A museum in order to see the exhibition and especially travelling for that in London (yes pretty mad …)
    Do you know if there is a special queue/ entrance to get in while you are a member ? As a guess that there is a huge queue in order to get in ? Don’t really know how members get in ?
    Best regards and sorry in advance for my english… not my mother language …

    • yesilikethat April 8, 2013 / 3:00 PM

      Hey Julia! If you have a members card you just go straight to the Bowie exhibition. However you will probably have to queue to get in. Hopefully not for too long. Normally members go straight to the front but for popular exhibitions you have to queue unfortunately!

      Don’t forget your card also gets you 10% off in the shop and the cafe. Just show the person on the till when you pay. Also there’s a special members room which is up on the fourth floor. Hope this makes sense!

    • julia April 8, 2013 / 3:10 PM

      Thanks so much for your answers ! That’s adorable !
      10 % off in the shop ? That’s cool for my wallet !

  5. craftylittlebugger April 4, 2013 / 10:21 PM

    I must go. I will bake you a cake to get in. Hell, I’ll bake several.

  6. Helen April 4, 2013 / 8:49 PM

    Really? It’s sold out? I was planning on coming down to London to go and see this (and, err, see my brother of course). I guess we’ll be queuing then!

    And I can’t believe I’ve looked at the Hunky Dory cover a million times and never noticed that his handwriting is so childish. Probably because my Dad was into Bowie and so I probably first saw this as a child and thought all writing looked like that! 🙂

    Thanks for the review. Makes me DEFINITELY sure I want to see it now.

    • yesilikethat April 10, 2013 / 3:53 PM

      Hope you get to see it! It’s truly awesome.

  7. gingermakes April 4, 2013 / 5:00 PM

    Boooooohoooooohoooooo…. I SO wish I could see this. 😦 Thanks for posting, though– I *almost* feel like I was there. 😦

    • yesilikethat April 10, 2013 / 3:51 PM

      Ah I wish you could come see it too! You could stay with me, I’ll make you dinner! (bring the pugs too) x

  8. shivani April 4, 2013 / 3:44 PM

    what?! sold out already?! I don’t understand… don’t they realise that I’ve had a weird crush on him since I was 11?! (don’t ask). I will definitely take the day off work to queue for this – it sounds incredible.

  9. didyoumakethat April 4, 2013 / 2:44 PM

    Did you hear Cerys Matthews on 6Music at the weekend? She was given a private tour by the curator and also commented on the childlike writing. It sounds superb and I can’t wait to go!

    • yesilikethat April 4, 2013 / 2:49 PM

      Didn’t catch her this weekend, I’ll get it on listen again, pleased somebody else noticed! My friend told me off for exclaiming ‘Didn’t he have girly handwriting!’. I think childish is a slightly less sexist way of describing it.

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