The ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition set out to explore, using 300 objects, music and film, the cultural significance of Bowie as a musical innovator and design visionary, tracing his shifting style and sustained reinvention across six decades. The creative process was examined through Bowie’s inspirations across 20th century art, theatre, literature and music; through his collaborations with artists and designers in the fields of fashion, sound, graphics, theatre, art and film; and by looking at his influence on creative people working today.

The exhibition was designed to appeal to a broad and diverse audience and to attract first time visitors. It was an immersive installation with much of the interpretation via audio, A/V, set design and a GPS sound system.

As well as the exhibition itself, ‘David Bowie is Happening Now’, a film of the last night of the exhibition was broadcast live to an audience of 30,000 at 200 cinemas across the UK from Exeter to Inverness.

The objective of the project was to show David Bowie as a cultural figure and key musical innovator of the late 20th century. The curators developed the concept and then secured the key material from the David Bowie Archive. Along with Sennheiser the curators and sound engineers worked to develop an immersive sound experience that allowed the audience to enjoy an extraordinary sound environment. This was a theatrical and performance-based presentation through the integration of GPS sound systems and video mapping that linked objects and visuals, making the best use of new technologies.

This immersive exhibition was appropriate to Bowie’s pioneering working methods driven by ‘Sound and Vision’, taking inspiration from theatre, live events, film and cultural crossovers. It also aimed to highlight Bowie’s core message – that everybody should be what they want to be – whether in terms of identity, sexuality, appearance, belief or culture.

As well as enthusiasm from critics and audiences alike, the exhibition attracted more first time visitors and overseas visitors than all other recent V&A exhibitions. The exhibition showed Bowie’s own works alongside contextual objects from the V&A’s collections and others. In this way it took the exhibition away from being a collection of memorabilia to a deeply engaging experience that told its audience something about themselves and the world around them. Showing the inspirations and creative processes in such a way seemed to take the public reaction into a new sphere, with many visitors saying it had inspired them to develop their own creativity.

The exhibition is now on a world tour until 2016.

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