A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of going to the DavidBowieIs experience with my friend at the Brooklyn Museum. It was interesting. Obviously, we know who David Bowie is and are familiar with his music, but the exhibit provided some more information that general audiences may not have been familiar with such as why he partnered with a particular designer, or his journals and creative processes. Overall, the exhibit was good, but it could have been better in several ways.
*Disclaimer I am writing this from both the perspective of an Arts and Cultural Management professional and a visitor. I’ll describe the exhibit as briefly as possible first.
Upon first entering the open orange space, visitors are presented with the rules. 1. Turn off your cell phone or put it on airplane mode because the exhibit uses Bluetooth. 2. No type of photography allowed. Once you get past the checkpoint, you are given a headset. There is no need to turn the headset on or fiddle with it unless you want to turn the volume up or down. As you move through the exhibit, you are met with clips of interviews from Bowie or full-length songs, and in some cases, music videos. Costumes, and renderings of album art and other drawings are displayed for everyone to see. There is an overview of Bowie’s life and childhood – a history of how Bowie became the person we know today. Visually, amazing and the musical accompaniment was a nice touch. The gift shop was nice too.
The problem with the exhibit is that it takes so long for people to move through and there is so much traffic that visitors aren’t able to see everything. The music goes in and out because visitors are forced to move from one area to another to make room for the incoming crowd. It took me and my friend almost three hours to see the entire exhibit. I should also mention that we got separated from each other because there were just so many people. The air was hot. I get that the point was for visitors to listen and watch but other than that, the exhibit wasn’t interactive and I feel that more value could have been added if it were. The no talking aspect of it also posed a risk, because when people did need to say, “Excuse me.” to get to their child or significant other, it was hard to hear them. Then there was an awkward exchange while both parties tried to take off their headphones just to say, “Excuse me.” or whatever. While this happened, there was usually a wave of new people entering the exhibit which just made for even more awkwardness
I really wanted to enjoy this experience, and I think there were some really good themes that could have been discussed among visitors or between visitors and staff, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I’ve seen museums and other pop-up exhibitions do this in the past when they have really special exhibitions. They let in 4 or 5 people every 2 or 5 minutes and it doesn’t help. It takes away from the experience EVERY TIME!This is what upset me about the Louis Vuitton exhibit, although; I will say they did a better job at the setup of that exhibit so the flow of traffic wasn’t so weird. ‘David Bowie Is’ required people to move around the outer walls of the rooms and maneuver their way to the center to view what was displayed there. *Cue more awkwardness and evil looks!
If you have time, you should definitely go see this exhibit. It really is worth visiting. Hopefully, the Brooklyn Museum has had time to figure out how to make it more enjoyable for everyone involved.