Extensive David Bowie collection to go on permanent display at purpose built venue in London

Mick the Ram

Mick the Ram

The life and legacy of the great David Bowie are going to be put on permanent display for his legions of fans from all around the world to have access to much of his lifetimes work.

The Victoria & Albert (V&A) museum have acquired the superstar’s extensive archive and have announced that a “David Bowie Centre for the Study of Performing Arts” is being created in east London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and will be ready for visitors by 2025.

The collection itself will include more than 80,000 letters, lyrics, photos, stage designs, instruments, music awards and costumes, from his remarkable career, which spanned six decades. As one of the most influential and innovative musicians of the 20th Century, he managed to evade categorisation by constantly exploring alternatives, be that experimenting with musical paths, or reinventing his own persona and image.

The hugely talented performer died in January 2016 from liver cancer, just a matter of days after releasing his final album, Blackstar. 

Following on from previously successful exhibition

The creation of this centre which promises to be another major attraction for London, was made possible by the David Bowie Estate and a £10m donation from the Blavatnik Family Foundation and Warner Music Group. This enabled the V&A to make their acquisition, having established a relationship with the star back in 2013, when they successfully staged what grew into the blockbuster retrospective: David Bowie Is… which was seen by in excess of 2 million people, causing the museum to remain open late on many evenings to enable them to cope with unprecedented demand for access.

Meticulous attention to detail

Senior curator at the museum, Kate Bailey, called it an “amazing gift”. Ms Bailey had previously been involved in the record-breaking 2013 exhibition of the performers work and described how fascinating she found the material, allowing a personal insight and access to creative practices. She added that the archive had been preserved with “fantastic care” and “meticulous” attention to detail, recognising the enormous importance the documents and objects were to the great man.

Artistic genius 

A spokesperson for Bowie’s estate said: “With David’s life’s work becoming part of the UK’s national collections, he takes his rightful place amongst many other cultural icons and artistic geniuses.” They added how pleased they were to be working closely with the V&A to continue to “commemorate David’s enduring cultural influence.”

Great thrill for museum

Dr Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A underlined how he believed access to the collection will provide a “sourcebook for the Bowies of tomorrow.” He added that his museum were thrilled to become the custodians of the archive of one of the greatest musicians and performers of all time and be able to open up his incredible archive to the public.

Dr Hunt passed on his deepest thanks to the David Bowie Estate, Blavatnik Family Foundation and Warner Music Group for helping to make “this a reality”.

Incredible opportunity awaits

Visitors to the exhibition can look forward to getting right up close to iconic letters, sheet music, and handwritten lyrics for hits songs such as: Heroes, Fame, and Ashes to Ashes. Additionally, there will be a plethora of photographs, prints and slides; fascinating album artwork; memorable stage designs; an embarrassment of music awards; famous instruments; and some quite amazing costumes.

Amongst the highlights are likely to be his breakthrough Ziggy Stardust ensembles, designed by Freddie Burretti in 1972, Kansai Yamamoto’s creations for the Aladdin Sane tour of 1973, and the Union Jack coat designed by Bowie and Alexander McQueen for the 1997 Earthling album cover.

“He was art itself”

Producer and guitarist Nile Rodgers, who collaborated with Bowie on the 1983 album Let’s Dance, spoke for many when he commented: “I believe everyone will agree with me when I say that if only one artist could be in the V&A and have their own collection it should be David Bowie; he didn’t just make art… he was art!”

To be celebrated

The chief executive of recorded music at Warner Music Group, Max Lousada remarked: “As the stewards of David Bowie’s extraordinary music catalogue, we are delighted to expand our relationship with his estate through this partnership with the V&A.” He added: “This archive promises to be an unparalleled display of individual artistic brilliance, invention, and transformation.”

He made the observation that the superstar’s influence continues to grow in stature as time moves on, and as a consequence, the permanent exhibition will serve as, in his words: “an enduring celebration of his profound legacy.”

Proud caretakers

The David Bowie estate sold the publishing rights to his “entire body of work” to Warner Chappell Music (WCM), at the beginning of 2022, giving them global music publishing rights to his song catalogue, in a deal thought to be worth in the region of £185m ($250m). This included albums, singles and tracks taken from soundtracks.

At the time WCM co-chairman and chief executive Guy Moot said they were “proud” to be chosen as “caretakers” and committed to tending to his “unparalleled body of songs” with both “passion and care.” He acknowledged how the remarkable performer’s ground-breaking and influential career had “inspired millions of fans and countless innovators, not only in music, but across all the arts, fashion, and media.” He called Bowie a “visionary and creative genius” who “wrote songs that challenged convention, changed the conversation, and have become part of the canon of global culture.”

Unbelievable talent

Born in Stockwell, London, in 1947, as David Robert Jones, he rose to fame under his professional name David Bowie and was acclaimed by critics and musicians alike, having significant impact on all aspects of pop music repeatedly, with astonishing innovations in his work. He also turned his hand to acting on occasions, even turning down a part in a James Bond movie in 1985, when he was approached to play a villain in “A View to a Kill”, giving his reason as  “I didn’t want to spend five months watching my stunt double fall off cliffs.”

He never looked the same from one year to the next and his extraordinary costumes and music videos have steered generations in the industry. He worked with a whole host of legends creating memorable collaborations with the likes of: John Lennon, Bing Crosby, Mick Jagger, and Queen.

Lyrics fetch crazy money

Unless some agreement is reached in the period before the exhibition opens to the public, one set of handwritten lyrics which will not be on show are those from the track The Jean Genie. That is because they were sold at auction last year for a massive £57,000. The singer had given the scribbled sheet to the founder of the inaugural David Bowie Fan Club at some point in the 1970’s, and comprised of 18 lines of Bowie’s workings, and was signed and dated by the singer.

The owner had decided to cash in after somebody else had scooped £203,500 for the lyrics for Bowie’s hit Starman. Whether the sale price was a disappointment is unclear, but perhaps the individual should approach the museum to see if they could strike up a deal and get them added to the collection.

Tributes at his passing

David Bowie died at his home in New York City, on 10 January 2016, two days after his 69th birthday, from liver cancer. He had been diagnosed with the condition 18 months earlier, but had kept his illness private, meaning that friends and fans alike were shocked at the news of his death.

He was hailed by fellow music stars with tributes from a who’s who of greats that included: Sir Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Madonna, Elton John, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Kate Bush, Bruce Springsteen, and Yoko Ono.

Guaranteed success

“Always ahead of the curve”; “incredible talent”; “Genius”; “Game Changer”. They were just a small sample of comments made on the immensely popular musician and singer’s passing, which probably demonstrates why there is so much confidence that the permanent display will be a huge success, when it opens to the public further down the line. 


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