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David Bowie art exhibit coming to the MCA

The show, which features 300 objects culled from the artist's personal 75,000-piece archive, will include set designs, video installations, music-video storyboards, handwritten lyrics, photos and, of course, decades of his wardrobes.

Christopher Borrelli

11:00 AM EDT, August 6, 2013

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David Bowie is the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom, as well-known for his five decades of music as for his slippery personas. David Bowie begat the shape-shifting of Madonna, who begat Lady Gaga. David Bowie, who earlier this year released his first album since 2003, is also likely not touring any time soon.

But “David Bowie is” … coming to Chicago.

“David Bowie is,” the blockbuster retrospective on the life and influence of the iconoclastic artist — which closes Sunday at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London — will open at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in September 2014. Right now, the MCA is the only U.S. stop for the exhibit, which travels to Toronto next month and has drawn more than 300,000 visitors to the V&A since it opened there in March.

The show is being brought to the MCA by its chief curator, Michael Darling, who organized a 2010 art exhibition, “Kurt,” on the life and influence of Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain, for the Seattle Art Museum. “As soon as we heard about the Bowie show, we began to talk to (the V&A) about where and when it would travel,” he said. “More than anything, I think we landed it because we were fast. And we had an opening.”

The exhibition is a probable blockbuster for the MCA, which, Darling said, “has had a steady diet of contemporary art shows, shows on fashion, the work of cartoonists like Daniel Clowes, but nothing this sensational. Besides, Bowie’s forward-looking notions about gender and identity — it’s perfect right now.”

The show, which features 300 objects culled from the artist’s personal 75,000-piece archive, will include set designs, video installations, music-video storyboards, handwritten lyrics, photos and, of course, decades of his wardrobes — including pieces from designer Alexander McQueen and Bowie’s legendary Ziggy Stardust tour. The show, which unfolds as a kind of biography, aims to place the singer in a larger context, reflecting on Bowie’s own avant garde influences while pointing toward Bowie’s prescient merging of sound and vision.

According to the V&A, “David Bowie is” was so popular in London, the museum sold more than 60,000 tickets before it opened; then went on to sell more than 20,000 exhibition tote bags and 90,000 postcards. After Toronto, the show will travel to Brazil; after Chicago, the show will travel to Paris, then the Netherlands.

Asked if the MCA would try to recruit Bowie — who has lived in New York City for many years, and become increasingly known for his reclusive, elusive, J.D. Salinger-esque existence — to attend the Chicago opening, Darling said: “Of course. Of course. We will do everything we can, but then, I don’t know …” Bowie, who grew up in London, did not collaborate on the V&A show, did not meet with its curators and visited only once, just recently, discretely.

cborrelli@tribune.com

Twitter @borrelli