V&A obtains 80,000 items from David Bowie Archive, revealing his creative process
Original costumes, set designs, drawings and handwritten lyrics will allow visitors to trace David Bowie’s creative process across six decades.
- Liz Gorny
- 23 February 2023
The V&A has obtained David Bowie’s vast personal archive and will make it available to the public from 2025. Over 80,000 items have been acquired, stretching from the artist’s early career in the 1960s to his death in 2016. The V&A has also announced the creation of a new dedicated space, The David Bowie Centre for the Study of Performing Arts at V&A East Storehouse, where visitors will be able to get closer to Bowie’s work.
The thousands of items donated by the David Bowie Estate span a number of mediums, from film and photography to decades worth of fashion. Among iconic pieces from Bowie’s career like the Ziggy Stardust Freddie Burretti pieces, “more intimate writings” and “unrealised projects” will be shown to the public, many of which for the first time, a V&A release states. Alongside the archival materials from the David Bowie Estate, the Blavatnik Family Foundation and Warner Music Group have contributed £10m for The Centre and “the ongoing conservation, research, and study of the archive”.
Sheet music, awards and instruments – including Brian Eno’s EMS synthesizer from Bowie’s Low – are among other items in the collection. The archive also reflects Bowie’s work outside music in cinema and as an artist, for example, through film stills from Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth. We can see Bowie’s personal practice via handwritten lyrics and notebooks “from every era of Bowie’s life and career”, plus examples of the “cut up” writing method introduced to Bowie by William Burroughs. Designs from Kansai Yamamoto for the Aladdin Sane tour and work from Alexander McQueen for the Earthling album cover show the iconic collaborations of Bowie’s career.
Dr Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, states: “The V&A is thrilled to become custodians of his incredible archive, and to be able to open it up for the public. Bowie’s radical innovations across music, theatre, film, fashion, and style – from Berlin to Tokyo to London – continue to influence design and visual culture and inspire creatives from Janelle Monáe to Lady Gaga to Tilda Swinton and Raf Simons.”
In 2013, the V&A was the first museum to be given “unprecedented” access to the David Bowie archive for its exhibition David Bowie Is…, which was seen by over two million people. The acquisition is the latest in this collaboration.
David Bowie friend and collaborator Tilda Swinton says: “In 2013, the V&A’s David Bowie Is… exhibition gave us unquestionable evidence that Bowie is a spectacular example of an artist, who not only made unique and phenomenal work, but who has an influence and inspiration far beyond that work itself. Ten years later, the continuing regenerative nature of his spirit grows ever further in popular resonance and cultural reach down through younger generations. In acquiring his archive for posterity, the V&A will now be able to offer access to David Bowie’s history – and the portal it represents – not only to practicing artists from all fields, but to every last one of us, and for the foreseeable future.”
The V&A will acquire The David Bowie Archive and create The David Bowie Centre for the Study of Performing Arts at V&A East Storehouse, opening in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in 2025. The acquisition and creation of The Centre has been made possible thanks to the David Bowie Estate and a generous donation of £10m from the Blavatnik Family Foundation and Warner Music Group.
Self-portrait in pose also adopted for the album cover of Heroes, 1978 by David Bowie (Copyright © The David Bowie Archive)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.