David Bowie Is . . . A Lesson in Curation


David Bowie is….? How does one museum exhibition attempt to answer this question about arguably the biggest persona in performance history? Victoria and Albert co-curators Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh of the Theater & Performance Department, were invited to Parsons Paris by Bridget O’Rourke, Director of Transcurricular Strategies, to discuss the curatorial process behind the conception and planning of this exhibition. The talk became the perfect mix between our MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies and MFA Design+Technology departments and had all of our students looking at this exhibition and the role of museums through new eyes.


Embarking on a two year journey to produce the exhibition (first shown at the V&A in 2013), Broackes and Marsh forged a partnership with Bowie’s archives. The museum could borrow anything they wanted from the archive, but Bowie himself would have no involvement in the exhibition. Though the exhibition texts were fact-checked for historical accuracy, the interpretation of his oeuvre was the museum’s entirely.

Resisting the temptation to tackle an exhibition of Bowie chronologically, Broackes and Marsh approached the exhibition layout to reflect Bowie’s creative process. They wanted to create an exhibition that was about more than just the objects in Bowie’s archive, integrating sound and video in addition to more traditional objects. In addition to the 300+ objects taken from the Bowie archive, the museum supplemented objects from their own collection to provide understanding of the cultural climate. As there is, of course, no single way to finish the phrase “David Bowie Is…” the curators launched a multi-media, multi-disciplinary approach the exhibition layout, recruiting Fifty Nine Productions to design the displays.

David Bowie Is …. on now at the brand new Jean Nouvel designed Philharmonie de Paris! Don’t miss the David Bowie Is film playing exclusively in Paris on Thursday, March 12th (only).


Text by Kristina Parsons, a graduate student in the MA History of Design and Curatorial Studies program at Parsons Paris. Learn more about our academic programs on the Parsons Paris website.

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