Those pre-Columbian statues might have not seen such a big crowd in a while. Certainly not a crowd of people with sparkling bolts of lightning painted on their cheeks.
Hundreds of people populated the fifth floor of the Brooklyn Museum in Prospect Heights on Sunday, the floor normally dedicated to American art, during the first weekend of the “David Bowie Is” exhibition, a multimedia and multi-sensorial journey into the art of the late British musician.
Bowie’s music career began in the mid 1960s in London and extended until his death in 2016, a career that featured many different music styles, ranging from rock and roll to a more experimental genre with electronic influences—all paired to sweeping changes of look. The exhibit attracted affectionate fans, artists in search of inspiration, and the just plain curious.
And it was highly popular. Around 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, the line at the museum’s ticket counter promised a wait, and by 3 P.M., all the day’s available tickets were already sold, leaving some Bowie fans quite disappointed, like Adrienne and Adam Kenny, a mother and a son who had travelled from Westchester. “I’m very mad,” Adrienne said. “They didn’t say we had to reserve in advance.” “It’s my fault,” joked her son. “I was hungover, and we were late.” But the two will be back, maybe next Sunday, they said, for another chance to see the hit exhibition that travelled to five countries in the past four years before landing in Brooklyn. The reason? Quite simply, they love Bowie.
“He’s a great inspiration. He’s been inspiring me that way,” Adam said, that “you can always change who you are and still be successful.” His mother, who is a correction officer and passionate about fashion, is fond of the way Bowie “changed people’s perspective on music and fashion.”
Fashion, a big component of Bowie’s artistic presence, was also a reason for other visitors to check out the massive display of the artists’ stage costumes and memorabilia. Like Leslie Xiu, a fashion designer from China who is visiting New York for “inspiration shopping,” as he put it. “Bowie was a revolutionary for his time,” Xiu said. “I like his androgynous look, and that he was very brave to show the world what he wanted to.” He thinks the world still needs this in 2018. “Right now, fashion is a lot about following trends without being oneself, but David Bowie was truly being himself,” Xiu said, as he waited in line hoping for a ticket though the hour was late.
Those who did make it to the fifth floor followed a series of orange signs–the official color of the exhibit–through three big halls from the entrance to the exhibition. The wait wasn’t short, but nobody seemed to complain. And some were quite excited.
Zachary Henningsgaard, from Brooklyn, sported silver lightning bolts–one of Bowie’s favorite symbols–on his cheeks, and a 1980s-themed outfit. “He is iconic, exciting, fun” he and his two friends said of Bowie, almost in a unison.
A young couple from the neighborhood with a nine-month-old girl didn’t seem to mind the wait, either. They said they were excited to bring their young daughter to the exhibit to let her experience the visuals and the sound. “I’m curious,” said the mother, Isabella Malacarne.
The last hall before entering the exhibition space featured giant orange mural paintings of David Bowie’s most iconic looks–the perfect backdrop for selfies and pictures.
But once in, photos are strictly prohibited, and an odd silence contrasted with the line’s chit chat. In the darkened, black-walled exhibition space, all visitors wore headphones. An automated system plays Bowie’s music, as well as excerpts from interviews and films as people walk past hundreds of his clothes, costumes, records, and screens playing his shows.
The magnificence of some of the installations–like the last room of the exhibit, where a wall-sized screen plays bits of Bowie’s best live concerts–left many looking up with big smiles.
Still, not everyone was smiling. Some visitors thought the museum had let too many people in, despite a cap on tickets sold. “This was quite underwhelming,” a short-haired woman in a long coat said, heading toward the exit. “Too many people, too little space.”
“David Bowie Is” draws almost entirely from Bowie’s private archives. It’s on display at the Brooklyn Museum until July 15.