The V&A has acquired the archive of David Bowie, which will be available for all to see at the new David Bowie Centre for the Study of Performing Arts from 2025. Comprising over 80,000 personal pieces, from iconic stage costumes to handwritten lyrics and personal mementoes, the collection promises a deeper understanding of the life and times of a musical genius and cultural icon
David Bowie fans will be over the moon to learn that the V&A has secured the singer’s archive for the nation. Comprising over 80,000 pieces from his estate, some never-before-seen, it will give an unprecedented insight into the life, times and boundless creativity of one of the most trailblazing figures in the history of music, film and fashion.
The vast collection will be available for the public to view at the David Bowie Centre for the Study of Performing Arts. The centre, purpose-built thanks to both the David Bowie Estate and a donation of £10 million from the Blavatnik Family Foundation and Warner Music Group, will be an extension to the new V&A East Storehouse, in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. This gargantuan project, currently under construction and opening in 2025, promises an immersive experience, taking visitors behind the scenes and providing unparalleled public access to V&A collections.
Including, of course, Bowie’s archive. The acquisition comes a decade on from the V&A’s 2013 exhibition David Bowie Is… The ground-breaking show – which marked the first time a museum had ever been given such access to the David Bowie archive – was a phenomenal success, travelling to a dozen museums and seen by over two million people around the world.
Now the archive will be available to everyone and anyone – from music fans to schoolchildren to academics -in London, giving them the chance to marvel at a collection that encompasses the musician’s entire career from the 1960s to his death in 2016. “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 practising artists from all fields, but to every last one of us, and for the foreseeable future,” said Tilda Swinton, one of Bowie’s friends and collaborators.
Visitors can expect to see everything from handwritten lyrics, letters and sheet music to fashion, photography, film, music videos, set designs, Bowie’s own instruments, album artwork and awards. Highlights will include original stage costumes such as the visionary Ziggy Stardust ensembles designed by Freddie Burretti; Kansai Yamamoto’s creations for the Aladdin Sane tour, including Bowie’s unforgettable striped bodysuit; and the Union Jack coat designed by Bowie and Alexander McQueen for the Earthling album cover. Music fans will be fascinated by the instruments and equipment, including Brian Eno’s EMS Synthesizer from Bowie’s seminal Low and “Heroes” albums and a Stylophone – a gift from Marc Bolan in the late 1960s, used on Bowie’s seminal Space Oddity recording.
Also archived are handwritten lyrics for songs including Fame, “Heroes” and Ashes to Ashes – as well as a series of more intimate personal writings, most of which have never before been seen in public. Not to mention stills from The Man Who Fell to Earth, the 1976 science fiction movie starring Bowie; and over 70,000 photos, prints, slides and contact sheets by some of the 20th century’s most famous photographers, Terry O’Neill, Brian Duffy and Helmut Newton among them.
“With David’s life’s work becoming part of the UK’s national collections, he takes his rightful place amongst many other cultural icons and artistic geniuses,” a spokesperson from the David Bowie Estate said. “The David Bowie Centre for the Study of Performing Arts – and the behind the scenes access that V&A East Storehouse offers – will mean David’s work can be shared with the public in ways that haven’t been possible before, and we’re so pleased to be working closely with the V&A to continue to commemorate David’s enduring cultural influence.”