peteg's blog - noise - 2014 10 22 MCAC DavidBowieIs

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago: David Bowie Is

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$25, bought on 2014-09-29. I picked a good time to come to Chicago: this turned up at the more-or-less six-month mark, as do the All Blacks in a few weekends' time. I intended to take the day off, but there was the chance of afternoon meeting, and so I only had the morning. I felt I was running quite late when I got there at 9.57am, given that I had a ticket good for entry between 10am and 10.30am, and that their blurb suggested that they'd be open from 9.30am for us to queue. This led to me doing some bicycle heroing down Chicago, the wind coming off the river and lake cold. In the end, it didn't matter. The other confusing bit was that we entered by the side door, and not the main one up the external staircase. I had to check my bag.

Well, Bowie, yeah. This is not so much about him as a human, or even as a musician, but just a fashion icon. One problem with this presentation is that we're far more likely to notice his plagiarism. For instance, I read solidarity-with-John-and-Yoko into his Japanese outfits of the early 1970s, rather than brash originality, and somewhat later the video for The Heart's Filthy Lesson tamely evoking Trent Reznor's Closer from about two years previous. The latter's remix of the song is superior too. Another is that we have little idea of what sparked his creativity; I didn't stop to read all the notes, but the one attached to the little cocaine spoon observes that it didn't stymie the magic of the early- to mid-1970s. I wondered if, like Elvis Costello, the odd divorce and new flame did the trick. You won't learn that here, for his love life is totally, like totally, MIA; Iman is not cited except possibly in the footnotes.

I did learn that Bowie supported Roy Harper on June 3, 1968. The curators somehow managed to find a pile of working TVs with real scan lines. The garb representing Outside is a touch militaristic; I've sometimes wondered just what it was that got Bowie labelled fascistic in the 1970s, and it might be that he is politically naïve or wilfully oblivious. His austere, classical thin-white-duke suits from Station to Station were the classiest thing there.

I ended up blowing through it in about an hour and fifteen minutes. They traded a bit much on audio accompaniment gizmo, and the bloke stalking around without one must have missed out on a lot. Focussing on Bowie's fashion like this reminded me of what Zappa said about music journalism, though yes, almost everything reminds me of that. It would have been a lot more fun if Bowie himself had done some sort of installation.