Ground control to the V&A: The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has secured the archive of the late cultural icon David Bowie, giving fans of the Thin White Duke the chance to get up close to the singer’s Ziggy Stardust costume ensembles, album artwork, set designs and sheet music. Bowie died 10 January 2016, aged 69.
From 2025, the 80,000-strong archive will be housed and available at the V&A’s new site—the V&A East Storehouse in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park—in a dedicated space called The David Bowie Centre for the Study of Performing Arts. The Bowie archive will be free to view. “The archive [also] holds a series of intimate notebooks from every era of Bowie’s life and career,” a V&A statement says.
The Blavatnik Family Foundation, established by the British-American businessman Leonard Blavatnik, and the Warner Music Group donated £10m towards the project. “The donation will help us to catalogue the collection and create the centre,” Kate Bailey, the senior curator for theatre and performance at the V&A, tells The Art Newspaper. The David Bowie estate also played a key role, greenlighting the acquisition of the vast archive.
Fellow rock stars welcomed the move. The musician Nile Rodgers, co-founder of the group Chic, says in a statement: “I believe everyone will agree with me when I say that when I look back at the last 60 years of post-Beatles music that if only one artist could be in the V&A it should be David Bowie. He didn’t just make art, he was art!”
“What is exciting is that this is a collection and archive from across Bowie’s entire artistic career. He lived his life as art and his life is archived as art. So many current artists look to Bowie; he really was liberating,” Bailey adds.
“There are some fascinating items. We can see how Bowie wrote lyrics, how he sketched his own costumes. There is a Stylophone from Marc Bolan which Bowie used on his Space Oddity recording,” Bailey says. The archive also includes instantly recognisable costumes such as Kansai Yamamoto’s designs for the Aladdin Sane tour (1973) and the Union Jack coat designed by Bowie and the late designer Alexander McQueen for the Earthling album cover (1997).
“The Bowie archive in context of the V&A’s broader collection is fascinating, fitting with our remit of art, design and performance. V&A East is about global creativity and inspiring the next generation of practitioners,” Bailey adds.
The V&A’s David Bowie Is exhibition opened in 2013 and included original album art, photographs, and videos drawn from the Bowie archive. The show was one of the most visited travelling shows in the history of the museum, going on a ten-stop tour from 2017, drawing 194,000 visitors at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and 200,000 visitors at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne.