- Written by Mark Savage
- BBC Music Correspondent
David Bowie fans will get an unprecedented look at his life, work, and legacy after the V&A Museum acquired the rock star’s archives.
The collection includes more than 80,000 letters, words, photos, stage designs, music awards, and costumes.
It also features several of the musician’s own instruments, including the Stylophone he played on his 1969 single Space Oddity.
The Archive will be on display in the year 2025 in a newly constructed space in East London.
Dr Tristram Hunt, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, said the David Bowie Center for the Study of the Performing Arts, in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, would provide a “reference book for future Boys”.
“It’s a wonderful gift,” said curator Kate Bailey, who previously worked on the museum’s 2013 flagship David Bowie Is….
It traces Bowie’s entire career. There are invaluable items from his early days in the ’60s, up until [2013 album] The next day and beyond.
“I found it fascinating — the personal insights, the handwritten lyrics, the dialogue with other creative practitioners in terms of how the song was written or how the song was recorded or how to approach a video.
“All of this stuff is incredibly rich and powerful.”
Other highlights include Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust costume, designed by Freddie Burretti in 1972, and a Union Jack coat designed by Bowie and Alexander McQueen for the cover of the 1997 Earthling album.
The group also includes Brian Eno’s EMS synthesizer, which was used on Bowie’s 1977 albums Low and Heroes; and examples of his “syllabary” style of lyric writing, which involved literally chopping up existing texts to generate new meanings from the rearranged pieces.
Ms Bailey said the archives had been preserved with “extreme care” and “meticulous” attention to detail.
“These things, these documents, were important to him, and you get the feeling that, since he was always moving creatively, it was worth stopping the car, collecting it, and storing it.” [everything] in order to move on to the next character or project.”
The acquisition of the V&A and creation of the Bowie Center was made possible by the David Bowie Estate and a £10 million donation from the Blavatnik Family Foundation and Warner Music Group.
In a press release, a spokesperson for Bowie’s estate said: “With David’s life’s work now in the UK’s national collections, he takes his rightful place among many other cultural icons and artistic geniuses.
“The David Bowie Center for the Study of Performance – and the behind-the-scenes access that the V&A East Storehouse provides – will mean that David’s work can be shared with audiences in ways that weren’t possible before.”
Producer and guitarist Neil Rodgers, who collaborated with Bowie on the 1983 Let’s Dance album, added: “I think everyone will agree with me when I say that… If only one artist could participate in a V&A, it would have to be David Bowie.”
“He didn’t just make art, he was art!”
“Typical beer trailblazer. Hipster-friendly web buff. Certified alcohol fanatic. Internetaholic. Infuriatingly humble zombie lover.”