David Bowie’s costumes, handwritten lyrics, album artwork and awards are among more than 80,000 archived items set to go on display to the public for the first time.
London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is setting up The David Bowie Centre for the Study of Performing Arts at its upcoming new venue V&A East Storehouse, to showcase the extensive archive from 2025.
Spanning six decades of Bowie’s career, from the 1960s to his death in 2016, the display in east London will provide an up-close look into the cultural icon’s life, work and legacy.
The collection will also feature letters, instruments, sheet music, fashion, photographs, film, music videos and set designs, as well as unrealised projects never before seen in public.
Hailing Bowie as “one of the greatest musicians and performers of all time,” V&A director Dr Tristram Hunt said the museum was “thrilled to become custodians of his incredible archive” and to open it to the public.
“Bowie’s radical innovations across music, theatre, film, fashion, and style – from Berlin to Tokyo to London – continue to influence design and visual culture and inspire creatives from Janelle Monae to Lady Gaga to Tilda Swinton and Raf Simons,” he said.
Highlights include stage costumes such as Bowie’s breakthrough Ziggy Stardust ensembles, designed by Freddie Burretti in 1972; Kansai Yamamoto’s creations for the Aladdin Sane tour in 1973; and the Union Jack coat designed by Bowie and Alexander McQueen for the 1997 Earthling album cover.
Handwritten lyrics for songs including Fame, Heroes and Ashes To Ashes also feature, as well as a photo collage of film stills from The Man Who Fell to Earth, and more than 70,000 photographs, prints, negatives, slides and contact sheets from photographers including Terry O’Neill, Brian Duffy and Helmut Newton.
The archive also includes instruments, amps, and other equipment, such as a Stylophone – a gift from Marc Bolan in the late 1960s – used on Bowie’s seminal Space Oddity recording.
A cultural icon and artistic genius
Additionally, the archive holds a series of intimate notebooks from every era of Bowie’s life and career.
The acquisition by the V&A and the creation of the Bowie centre was made possible thanks to the David Bowie Estate and a £10m donation from the Blavatnik Family Foundation and Warner Music Group.
A spokesperson from the Bowie estate said: “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.”
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Bowie, born David Jones in Brixton, south London, died aged 69 on 10 January 2016.
Moonage Daydream, the first officially sanctioned documentary on the star since his death from cancer, was released in 2022, and was shortlisted at this year’s BAFTAs.
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Max Lousada, chief executive of recorded music at Warner Music Group, said: “As the stewards of David Bowie’s extraordinary music catalogue, we’re delighted to expand our relationship with his estate through this partnership with the V&A.
“This archive promises to be an unparalleled display of individual artistic brilliance, invention, and transformation. Bowie’s influence only grows in stature over time, and this will be an enduring celebration of his profound legacy.”