Modern Love for David Bowie in Toronto

Opening night for "David Bowie is" at the AGO awarded the first 200 visitors dressed as Bowie free admission. (Julia Pelish/

Opening night for “David Bowie is” at the AGO in Toronto included free admission for the first 200 visitors dressed as Bowie. (Julia Pelish/

Story By Waheeda Harris Senior Writer

TORONTO, ONTARIO — As the first stop of an exhibition that will tour North America, David Bowie is showcases artifacts from the past 50 years of the pop culture icon’s unique career. The Toronto exhibit is the first international retrospective to reveal the unique layers that led a young David Jones to become David Bowie and the several characters that make up his fascinating contribution to pop history.

Launched in March at  London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, David Bowie is tells the story of  this imaginative British performer through the more than 300 items displayed, which were sourced by the Victoria & Albert curators Geoffrey Marsh and Victoria Broackes from Bowie’s private archive of 75,000 items. Marsh and Broackes worked with Bowie’s personal archivist Sandie Hirskowitz to choose the pieces on display, marking the first time any items from the archives have been exhibited. To date, Bowie has not yet seen the exhibition, which opened on Wednesday at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Handwritten song lyrics, personal letters, photographs, posters, collectibles, albums, art, music videos, TV interviews, and costumes are thematically displayed, drawing in the curious and the devoted to see the wide-spread influences that fuelled this chameleon. Those inspirations include Bertolt Brecht, Japanese Kabuki theatre, surrealism, and Elvis Presley.

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David Jones who transformed into David Bowie in 1965 to avoid confusion with The Monkees‘ Davy Jones is not just a musician, artist, actor, and singer — he’s a performer. Bowie’s focus on performance is what confirms his distinct status within pop culture and has made him an influential artist whose path has continued despite what critics have written over the years.

David Bowie Exhibition Captivates AGO

Like many Brit teenagers, the young David Jones listened to US Armed Forces Radio to hear the soul sounds of Motown’s faves and the rock stylings of Elvis, collecting magazines and photos. Visitors can see those precious items as well as sketches, paintings, memorabilia, albums, costumes and literature which contributed to the early days of Jones in bands like the Kon-rads and the creation of beloved characters like Aladdin Sane, The Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, Halloween Jack and Major Tom.

And it’s not just the amazing body of music that is shown and heard while viewing this exhibit – there are items related to his theatre and film work, such as his sketches, costumes and posters from The Elephant Man, Labyrinth, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, The Man Who Fell From Earth and Basquiat.

As well, Bowie’s dedication to creativity and collaboration is revealed through letters shared with fashion designer Alexander McQueen and video interviews with fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto and long-time music producer Tony Visconti.

As visitors wander the exhibit, the audio guide, created specifically by Sennheiser provides a unique soundtrack of Bowie tracks, excerpts of television interviews and commentary by collaborators.  Take time in the last room of the exhibition, not just for the costumes displayed, but for loops of concert excerpts from different decades.

David Bowie is gives us a better understanding of Bowie’s colourful creative story and his contribution to pop culture’s timeline. And thankfully, he’s not done yet.

Five exhibition highlights:

  • Terry O’Neil’s photograph of David Bowie for Diamond Dogs (1974)
  • Handwritten lyrics for Starman (1972)
  • Union Jack coat designed by Alexander McQueen for David Bowie’s Earthling album cover (1997)
  • Ice blue suit worn in promotional film Life on Mars, designed by Freddie Burretti (1972)


More About “David Bowie is” at the AGO

Location: 317 Dundas Street West (see map below)
Dates: September 25-November 27, 2013
Prices: $30 for adults. Tickets can be purchased online.
Hours: Monday: Closed; Tuesday, Thursday-Sunday: 10 am–5:30 pm; Wednesday: 10 am-8:30 pm
Public transportation: Take the TTC subway to St. Patrick station and walk three blocks west along Dundas Street to the museum. Or take the Dundas Street streetcar to either McCaul Street (if travelling east) or Beverly Street (if travelling west) and you will be in front of the museum. TTC tokens for subways and streetcars is $3 for one way. [Read more on how to Get Into and Around Toronto]


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A Toronto-based freelance journalist since the beginning of the millennium, Waheeda has been lucky enough to visit every continent. She's always happy to travel, especially when she can swim in the sea, taste locally-made cuisine and spend an afternoon in an art gallery.

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