Friday, September 26, 2014

David Bowie As Art

Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art is hoping that Americans are so enraptured with David Bowie that they will come in droves to see what is sold as an art exhibit.

Is "David Bowie Is" an art exhibit, or would the collection fit better with another museum? A museum that displays old artifacts and presents anthropology in a slightly dry and dusty manner, perhaps?
Where does David Bowie fit in with this?

Museums are stretching the meaning of their message these days as the exhibitors try to find something that will interest people who have more entertainment options than they can process. Modern art, in particular, is a tough sell because not everyone is appreciative of a large empty room containing a plastic sheet sprinkled with dirt. Finding the deeper meaning can often be too much for a casual Saturday stroll when you're tired from the work week and just want to rest your eyes on something soothing.

The David Bowie-approved collection of his paraphernalia opened in Chicago and the critics don't seem to know what to make of it, either. It's a trip down memory lane for those old enough to recall the musician in his prime, when he was cutting edge in both music and performance. The stage shows were works of art, in their way, but it wouldn't be much of an art museum draw to just play a tape of some old concert.

A coke spoon pays tribute to the performer's drug addled days, but is that art or just a sad testimony to a life of overindulgence, fear of falling into irrelevancy, and boredom?

Are his costumes works of art? The hair, the make-up, is that art or is it all part of a production number that is less art and more marketing of a musician? Does the collection become art because of the way that the museum curators arrange it, is that where the art is?

That David Bowie was once aiming for a career in advertising would suggest that he's done a fine job of promoting himself with many of the attention-grabbing ploys of the advertiser. Yet we treat old posters as art and hang them on walls, often in art museums. It isn't what is being sold, then, but how it is being sold.

In part, the exhibit is a retrospective of David Bowie's career, in which he tried different styles and images in a bid to stay relevant in a changing musical world. There is an art to achieving fame and then keeping it, but whether that's suitable for an art museum is something to discuss over drinks after touring the exhibit.

And as long as you're in Chicago to see the evolution of a musical performer presented as an art exhibit, why not stop by the finest museum in the world and see what most would consider to be true art? The Art Institute of Chicago houses a collection that runs the gamut from ancient to modern. Throw that into the mix and the discussion on what constitutes art would be a lively one indeed.

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