David Bowie archive to be made public for the first time after donation to V&A

Over 80,000 items from David Bowie’s collection are to go on display for the first time, following the donation of the archive to the V&A.

David Bowie

Over 80,000 items from David Bowie’s collection are to go on display for the first time following the donation of the archive to the V&A.

The works span six decades of Bowie’s iconic career, including the periods when he donned his personas Ziggy Stardust, Halloween Jack and Aladdin Sane.

They’ll be showcased in a brand-new David Bowie Centre for the Study of Performing Arts at the V&A’s upcoming East Storehouse from 2025, which V&A director Tristram Hunt has said he hopes will provide “new sourcebook for the Bowies of tomorrow”.

The archive will feature handwritten lyrics, iconic costumes, photos, stage designs and instruments, including the Stylophone Bowie played on his breakout 1969 single ‘Space Oddity’ and the EMO synthesiser used by Brian Eno on the 1977 album Low.

Ziggy Stardust

Photo: Michael Ochs

Welcoming the collection further, Hunt hailed Bowie as “one of the greatest musicians and performers of all time,” saying the V&A was “thrilled to become custodians of his incredible archive”.

“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 Monáe to Lady Gaga to Tilda Swinton and Raf Simons,” he added. 

As reported by the FT, the new centre will be funded by a £10 million donation from Warner Music Group, who acquired the late singer’s publishing rights at the start of last year.

The V&A has a history of displaying Bowie’s works. In 2013, the museum opened the David Bowie Is exhibition, which went on a five-year run worldwide, concluding in New York’s Brooklyn Museum. The show was one of its most popular exhibits, attracting some 2 million visitors in total.

David Bowie

Photo: Michael Ochs

Kate Bailey, senior curator at the V&A, who was also part of the 2013 show, has said: “We had unprecedented access to Bowie’s archive for the 2013 exhibition, but that only scratched the surface.” 

“Bowie’s hand in everything – sketching out costume ideas and album covers, song notes, details of collaborations. It gives insight into his imagination and how he saw his ideas through.” 

News of the latest exhibition comes some five months after the Brett Morgen-directed documentary on Bowie, Moonage Daydream, which was the first of its kind to be made with the approval of Bowie’s estate.

In our review, we wrote, “Morgen pulls off the ekphrastic task at hand beautifully, using one artform to depict another – a practice Bowie exercised himself through his own paintings, even if he was painfully shy of showcasing them.”

Now you’ll get the chance to see some of those other artworks Bowie was involved with at the V&A’s special centre from 2025.

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