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July 5, 2017

“David Bowie Is” at the Barcelona Design Museum


How about Bowie’s exhibition? Is it worth the money? Friends are asking after my visit to the exhibition.  The simple answer is “It is a really good exhibition” and “Yes, it’s worth the money”. But let me try to tell you why.

I had my doubts when I first saw the prices. Some popular culture and iconic exhibition are not worth the high prices. I was unaware that the exhibition was produced by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. I have good memories of my visits to V&A and have always enjoyed their temporary and permanent exhibitions. V&A means quality so I decided to check it out.

The exhibition is a chronological journey through the musical, artistic and personal life of David Bowie. Included in the price you get an audio guide that self activates as you enter specific exhibition areas. The audio, in original version, mainly in English and mostly musical also includes interviews to Bowie and collaborators and brings sound to the audiovisual content.

The audio-guide transforms the visit into an individual, fluid, emotional and immersive experience. However, it has the drawback that reduces the shared experience and the dialogue among visitors, may generate some confusion in transitional areas and can be disturbing during the reading of exhibition text. The solution is simple, take off your headphones when you find it annoying, at the sections with ambient sound and when you want to share the experience with others.


The creators have managed to incorporate more than 300 objects without generating a feeling of object overdose. It includes handwritten lyrics, original costumes, fashion items, photographs, films, music videos, set designs, Bowie’s own instruments and album artwork. Always in its right context, using both traditional display formats like showcases and also stunning scenarios and dioramas.

I am a fan of dioramas and I really enjoyed how the designers have used such a traditional resource in a contemporary way. One of them recreates the control room of a spaceship, from which you can observe the image of the planet Earth, taken by astronaut Willian Anders during the Apollo 8 mission, a photograph forever changed the perception humans had of planet earth. Next to earth a sixties tv screen pays two video versions of the single "Space Oddity". As Bowie wrote "Planet Earth is blue and there is nothing I can do".

They have also made the most of the audiovisual content by projecting it on scenarios, dioramas, screens, cubes suspended from the ceiling, corners, framed spaces on a wall, a small table that represents the sheet of a notebook and in a spectacular projection room that closes the exhibition. To complete the list a funny exhibit of a disturbing human mini-figure with a single body and two pillow like heads in which two gesticulating faces of Bowie are projected.

Just as the entrance to the exhibition is light and easy, emotions accumulate during the journey and surface in the final room. Among other things, a live concert of Bowie is projected.


The four immense cloth-covered walls contain cubicles with costumes of Bowie, which are colorfully illuminated, synchronized with the projection´s quality sound. Despite the contained emotions of many visitors, including myself, this final room experience has been the closest I've come to witnessing a live Bowie concert.

I have to admit that I was envious of one of the visitors, a young man with Down syndrome, who did not care much about others, and who played the air guitar and moved his head to the rhythm of Bowie's music. To bring out the passion for Bowie´s music and performances, I would have included an exhibit for visitors to dance, do play back, voice over, karaoke or simulate a recording session.

"This exhibition presents part of the story, the rest lies with us" reads one of the final texts. The combination of the exhibition with our own perception of Bowie and his legacy is what makes this visit a unique experience. We are fortunate to have "David Bowie Is" in Barcelona.

I definitely recommend visiting the exhibition and suggest that you go with sufficient time. I spent over three hours without noticing. I also suggest you check out the parallel program that the “Museu Del Disseny” of Barcelona has organized for the occasion. Looks very interesting.

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