The V&A has today announced it is to secure the archive of pop star David Bowie. The archive features 80,000 items, including handwritten lyrics, letters, original costumes, Bowie’s own instruments, album artwork and awards.
It also includes more intimate writings, thought processes and unrealised projects, the majority of which have never been seen in public before.
From 2025, the archive will be made available to the public through the creation of The David Bowie Centre for the Study of Performing Arts at V&A East Storehouse, in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The V&A East Storehouse is set to open in 2024.
The acquisition and creation of The Centre has been made possible by the David Bowie Estate and a donation of £10m from the Blavatnik Family Foundation and Warner Music Group. Alongside the creation of the new Centre, the gift will support the ongoing conservation, research, and study of the archive.
It will hold more than 80,000 items spanning Bowie’s early career in the 1960s through to his death in 2016. The acquisition follows the V&A’s ground-breaking 2013 exhibition, David Bowie Is…, when the museum was first given access to the David Bowie Archive.
Dr Tristram Hunt, Director of the V&A, called David Bowie “one of the greatest musicians and performers of all time”.
Hunt said the new V&A East Storehouse “is the ideal place to put Bowie’s work in dialogue with the V&A’s collection spanning 5,000 years of art, design, and performance.”
Included in the collection will be Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust ensembles designed by Freddie Burretti, Kansai Yamamoto’s creations for the Aladdin Sane tour and the Union Jack coat designed by Bowie and Alexander McQueen for the Earthling album cover.
The archive also includes handwritten lyrics for some of his most popular songs, Brian Eno’s EMS Synthesizer, and and a Stylophone – a gift from Marc Bolan in the late 1960’s, used on Bowie’s seminal Space Oddity recording.
A spokesperson from the David Bowie Estate, said 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, and we’re so pleased to be working closely with the V&A to continue to commemorate David’s enduring cultural influence.”
The David Bowie Archive joins the V&A’s Theatre & Performance collections, which includes the archives of Vivien Leigh, Peter Brook, and Glastonbury Festival.
Last month, The Museum of London Docklands began a public search for high profile designer outfits worn by rockstars including David Bowie, to add to a major exhibition focussed on the contribution of Jewish designers in London’s fashion history.
Image:Photograph of David Bowie Performing as The Thin White Duke on the Station to Station tour, 1976. Photograph by John Robert Rowlands. © John Robert Rowlands and The David Bowie Archive