“Tell them I’m a dreaming kind of guy. And I’m going to make my dream. Tell them I will live my dream.” — David Bowie, “When I Live My Dream”

Glamour, fantasy & rock ‘n’ roll — the trifecta that is David Bowie. Celebrating all that “is” Bowie, Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) invites fans of the performing artist to view an unprecedented retrospective — “David Bowie is” — direct from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England, beginning September 25th.

The first stop on its world tour, this multi-media extravaganza takes 300 objects from Bowie’s own personal archive such as diary entries and stage costumes, and places them alongside multi-media components including immersive 3D audio experiences designed by the innovative German audio company, Sennheiser, to erect a spectacle of Bowie’s career dating back on through to the last five decades and spanning across the fields of music, fashion, theatre, art and film.

In light of the artist the exhibit pays homage to (remember watching The Labyrinth for the first time?),  it seems only appropriate that “David Bowie is” be a larger than life installation, with content stretched from one side of the artistic spectrum to the other. It is, after all, Bowie’s scope and the courageous finesse with which he bends the parameters of whatever given medium he chooses to explore, that has inspired generation of artists, working in any number of creative fields.

“He doesn’t really seem to care what people think about him,” says British multi-media artist and curator Stuart Semple of Bowie. “He just goes out there and makes his stuff. He’s one of a handful I can think of who really play with the aesthetics of their own self identity, and that has been a massive influence on so many people, in so many artistic fields.”

As an artist himself known for applying a singular — distinctly pop — vision to various creative fields and collaborations, from his in-store exhibit, “The Cult of Denim” at Selfridges department store to his upcoming October exhibition in London, “Suspend Disbelief,” featuring new paintings (below), sculptures and installations, Semple cites Bowie’s touch of the chameleon as the allure that has long captivated him as a fan and inspired him as an artist.

“He’s so complex and of course he’s evolved so much over time. I think really for me it’s his bravery to express himself in all these multi-faceted ways. He gives a lot of permission to evolve and experiment, and he never seems to get stuck,” explains Semple.  “Lyrically, I think a lot of the pieces I’ve made have been instigated by his words. His lyrics really come from a cut and paste collage type tradition, at one stage, there’s something very Warholian about them and something very visual too. Yet there’s an emotion…that’s all stuff that I dream about being able to bring together in paintings. I often paint whilst listening to him actually.”

Heralded by the rock ‘n’ roll canon as a contemporary living legend, the AGO’s latest exhibit chronicles the life and persona(s) of a man who simultaneously exists as a borderless cultural icon and a revered national figure in Britain. “He’s actually not quintessentially British because his flamboyance goes against the grain, that’s why he is so remarkable to us because really we are traditional. You can’t imagine the ruckus he caused by putting glittery eye makeup on,” says Semple. “He is an alien really, but that eccentric, dandyish persona really could only have come from a place that spawned Oscar Wilde, Carnaby Street, swinging ’60s and a place with an eccentric aristocratic class. All those elements are in there, and that is British.”

For fans like Semple, the imaginative quality of “David Bowie is” will dazzle. Besides the already impressive costumes, handwritten set lists, sketches, film footage and other artifacts borrowed from the artist’s archive and placed on display, the exhibit’s 3D audio experience provides an unforgettable sensory journey through the history of Bowie’s layered career, during which gallery goers soak in views of the artist performing live complete with spacial sound, thanks to hidden Neumann and Klein+Hummel loudspeakers.

“Together with the great videos, it will give you a real intimate feeling of being present during the concerts and the interviews,” explains Gregor Zielinsky, Grammy-winning sound engineer and International Recording Applications Manager with Sennhesier. “You will be able to enjoy David’s art, as you did never before, or maybe a concert. Maybe some people recognize themselves in the videos, as young girls or boys — this would certainly be a special experience.”

On display until November 27th, music and pop culture buffs curious to learn the details concerning the rise of Ziggy Stardust will want to make sure they get out to see this one.

Published September 6, 2013