The Victoria & Albert Museum Says ‘Let’s Dance’ to David Bowie, Agreeing to Acquire the Iconic Musician’s Complete Archives

Some 80,000 items from the musician's career will be available at the new David Bowie Center for the Study of Performing Arts.

Striped bodysuit for Aladdin Sane tour, 1973. Design by Kansai Yamamoto. Photograph by Masayoshi Sukita. © Sukita and The David Bowie Archive.

Fans will soon get an unprecedented opportunity to explore the ch-ch-ch-changes of one of pop culture’s true icons. The Victoria & Albert Museum in London announced today that it has acquired the complete archives of David Bowie.

The collection, which comprises some 80,000 items from the mercurial singer-songwriter’s six-decade career—including handwritten lyrics and letters, original costumes and clothes, and stage-worn instruments and props—will be made available to the public for the first time at the new David Bowie Center for the Study of Performing Arts, set to open in 2025 at the new V&A East Storehouse outpost in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

“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,” the David Bowie estate state said in a statement. “The David Bowie Centre for the Study of Performing Arts—and the behind-the-scenes access that V&A East Storehouse offers—will mean David’s work can be shared with the public in ways that haven’t been possible before.”

A John Robert Rowlands photograph of David Bowie Performing as The Thin White Duke on the Station to Station tour, 1976. © John Robert Rowlands and The David Bowie Archive.

For Bowie buffs, the archive surely represents the ultimate goldmine of resources on the artist. Included in it, for instance, is Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust getup and the Union Jack coat he designed with Alexander McQueen for the cover of his 1997 album, Earthling. There’s the Stylophone he played on “Space Oddity,” given to him by T. Rex’s Marc Bolan, and the synthesizer he used for 1977’s Low, a gift from Brian Eno. There are also thousands of photographs of the artist, many taken by major names like Terry O’Neill and Helmut Newton.

“David Bowie was one of the greatest musicians and performers of all time,” said V&A director Tristram Hunt, who called the center a “new sourcebook for the Bowies of tomorrow.” 

“[His] radical innovations across music, theater, 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,” the director went on.

Cut up lyrics for “Blackout” from Heroes, 1977 by David Bowie. © The David Bowie
Archive.

Swinton, a friend of Bowie’s who has appeared in several of his music videos, chimed in, too, calling the V&A’s announcement a “truly great piece of news.” 

The actor said the museum’s 2013 exhibition “David Bowie Is…” provided “unquestionable evidence that Bowie is a spectacular example of an artist, who not only made unique and phenomenal work, but who has an influence and inspiration far beyond that work itself. Ten years later, the continuing regenerative nature of his spirit grows ever further in popular resonance and cultural reach down through younger generations.”

David Bowie, Self-portrait in pose also adopted for the album cover of Heroes (1978). © The David Bowie Archive.

A £10 million ($12 million) donation from the Blavatnik Family Foundation and Warner Music Group—which oversees Bowie’s catalogue of songs—will help fund the Bowie Center and support the ongoing conversation and study of the archive.

“I believe everyone will agree with me when I say that when I look back at the last 60 years of post-Beatles music, that if only one artist could be in the V&A it should be David Bowie,” said Nile Rodgers, who produced “Let’s Dance” and other songs. “He didn’t just make art, he was art!”

 

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