David Bowie’s ‘extraordinary’ archive gets a home

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From Major Tom to Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, the many faces and inspirations of David Bowie are getting a permanent home in London.

Britain’s Victoria & Albert Museum announced Thursday that it has acquired Bowie’s archive of more than 80,000 items as a gift from the late musician’s estate. The trove of costumes, musical instruments, letters, lyrics, photos and more will be opened to the public at a new arts center dedicated to the chameleonlike pop icon.

The David Bowie Center for the Study of Performing Arts is due to open in 2025 as part of V&A East Storehouse, an offshoot of the U.K.’s national museum of art, design and performance that is being built in east London’s Olympic Park.

The V&A said the center will let fans and researchers gain insights into the creative process of Bowie, who died in 2016 at the age of 69.

Kate Bailey, the museum’s senior curator of theater and performance, said the archive was an “extraordinary” record of a creator whose “life was art.”

“Bowie’s a polymath, he’s multifaceted. He was inspired by all genres and disciplines,” she said. “He’s an artist who was working really in 360 — drawing from literature, but also drawing from art history … (and) the places that he’d been to.”

The musician — born plain old David Jones in the London suburbs in 1947 — reinvented himself restlessly, creating and shedding personas as he moved through musical styles from folk-rock to glam to soul to electronica.

He created a series of larger-than-life stage characters, mining influences ranging from German Expressionist cinema to Japanese Kabuki theater. In turn he has influenced musicians, filmmakers, fashion designers and advertisers.

Some of the items in the archive formed part of “David Bowie Is,” a multimedia exhibition that toured the world after a sold-out run at the V&A in London in 2013.

Some items are iconic, such as a multicolored quilted jumpsuit designed by Freddie Burretti for Bowie’s alien rock star creation Ziggy Stardust, Kansai Yamamoto’s futuristic creations for the Aladdin Sane tour in 1973 or the Union Jack coat designed by Bowie and Alexander McQueen for the cover of 1997’s “Earthling” album.

Others are more personal, including letters, handwritten lyrics for songs including the anthem “Heroes,” and notebooks that Bowie kept throughout his life. The archives also contain more than 70,000 photographs, slides and images.

The museum secured the archive from the Bowie estate and also received a 10 million pound ($12 million) donation from the Blavatnik Family Foundation and Warner Music Group to house and display it at V&A East, part of a new culture and technology quarter rising on the site of the 2012 London Olympics.

The David Bowie Estate said that “with David’s life’s work becoming part of the U.K.’s national collections, he takes his rightful place amongst many other cultural icons and artistic geniuses.”

V&A director Tristram Hunt called Bowie “one of the greatest musicians and performers of all time.”

“Bowie’s radical innovations across music, theatre, film, fashion, and style — from Berlin to Tokyo to London — continue to influence design and visual culture and inspire creatives from Janelle Monáe to Lady Gaga to Tilda Swinton and Raf Simons,” he said.

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