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Ground control to major exhibition space: David Bowie's archive is gifted to the V&A

Rock star David Bowie performs on stage at Wembley Stadium, London, July 13, 1985
Rock star David Bowie performs on stage at Wembley Stadium, London, July 13, 1985 Copyright JOE SCHABER/1985 AP
Copyright JOE SCHABER/1985 AP
By Jonny Walfisz with AP
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From Ziggy Stardust's jumpsuit to the handwritten lyrics for "Heroes", David Bowie's extensive archive is coming to a dedicated arts centre in east London.


The Starman is coming to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The estate of David Bowie has gifted a treasure trove of items from the rockstar’s life.

The V&A announced the estate is giving them 80,000 objects, including musical instruments, letters, lyrics, photos and more. Fans of the pop-culture icon will be able to pour over the vast array of Bowie ephemera in a brand new arts centre dedicated to him.

The David Bowie Centre for the Study of Performing Arts is due to open in 2025, as part of the V&A East Storehouse, an offshoot of the main museum under construction in the east London neighbourhood where the 2012 Olympic Park stands.

Whether you fell in love with the early songs of Major Tom, became enamoured by the glam alien characters Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, or were seduced by the complex Thin White Duke, the new centre will be a hub for fans still reeling from losing the chameleonic legend in 2016.

Joel Ryan/Joel Ryan/Invision/AP
A reflection of the costume that David Bowie wore as Ziggy Stardust on tour and during a performance of 'Starman' on British pop music show Top of The PopsJoel Ryan/Joel Ryan/Invision/AP

A life in art

As last year's excellent documentary ‘Moonage Daydream’ showed, Bowie’s life was defined by an artistic sensibility that spanned beyond genre or medium. “Bowie’s a polymath, he’s multifaceted. He was inspired by all genres and disciplines,” Kate Bailey, the V&A’s senior curator of theatre and performance said.

Bailey reflects on Bowie as a creator whose “life was art”. “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 V&A has already curated an immersive exhibition on the star. “David Bowie Is” ran in 2013 at the central London location before going on an international tour. The exhibition coincided with the release of Bowie's penultimate album ‘The Next Day’.

“David Bowie Is” featured many of his most iconic outfits, including his multicoloured 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.

A Union Jack coat designed by Alexander McQueen and worn by musician David Bowie is displayed at the "David Bowie is" exhibition at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) museumLEON NEAL/AFP

An east London Bowie hub

The collection now given to the V&A includes these outfits as well as personal objects such as 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.

Alongside securing the archive, the V&A has been endowed with a £10 million donation from the Blavatnik Family Foundation and Warner Music Group for their plans to house it in the east London location.

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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