(R)evolution in Berlin: The David Bowie Epic Exclusively at Martin-Gropius-Bau

07/09/2014 06:03 pm ET | Updated Sep 08, 2014


"David Bowie" at the Martin-Gropius-Bau Berliner Festpiele complete with Bowie Berlin Walk. The museum announced only six months ago that they would be hosting the exhibition and in April created more excitement with news of an exclusive extension: Bowie's Berlin years with 60 additional exhibits curated by Christine Heidemann. (Photo by LPS)

Berlin was rumbling in early 2013 when David Bowie was appearing all over the city in the form of posters for his surprise album The Next Day, his first in a decade.

The "Where are we now" video collaboration with Tony Oursler (center) contains footage of Berlin. (Berlin installation photo by Thomas Bruns of Avantgarde)

The video was a signal that Bowie hadn't forgotten Berlin, where his rock n' roll legend, originating with a generic name in a rather ordinary post-war childhood in a family marked by suicide.

David Bowie when he was David Jones.

And yet, the multimedia wunderkind's return to the resurrected city in 2014 brings his rock legend into the realm of 21st century mythology, making the Berlin retrospective extension a MUST SEE to understand the David Bowie epic narrative.

Bowie's electrifying icon at the entrance of the Martin-Gropius-Bau of the Berliner Festspiele in its haunted location beside the Topography of Terrors, one of the few last remaining sites of the original Berlin Wall (lower left). Photo by LPS.

The retrospective is a journey through the late 20th century...

...Davide Bowie as "Space Oddity" blasting into the collective along with the 1969 Moon landing... rock star of many personas, adopted and discarded at Schopenhauerian will through his homo-generator multimedia experimentations...


...which brought into question not only human origins with his bridging of past, present and future...

David Bowie as Starman

....but Bowie's personal origins in advertising (like Andy Warhol in the sixties and Andres Serrano in the seventies) which defined the seventies through strong visual media related to self-awareness and gender identity...

Bowie as Psychopomp/Interventionist/Plagiarist in the presence of the eye, symbol of consciousness.

Berlin was the city where David Bowie was reborn into self-reflective human being from the "Rock n Roll Suicide" of his Ziggy Stardust glam persona and subsequent L.A. drug-addicted megalomaniacal underworld descent...

Lines of Awareness: a David Bowie expressionist self-portrait gesturing upwards from the Berlin years.

Bowie's Berlin years (1976-78) were an authentic life transformation, and the most engrossing highlight of the retrospective that will only be on display in the city.

A period film (reflected) of the gray cityscape; the self-enclosure of the wall highlighted by the signage of subway maps; clips of interviews where Bowie defined his purpose; photographs and other artifacts, including paintings -- add up to a phenomenology of resurrection in the anonymous haven for outcasts that was West Berlin.

"Black and White Years" Berlin section with artifacts relating to the Weimar gender-bending influences such as Marlene Dietrich and artistic inspirations (in the foreground is Expressionist artist Erich Heckel's 1917 Roquairol) catalyzing Bowie's resurrection as a painter.

It was the 21st century myth of the eternal return: the life/death/rebirth of the paradigm shift from linear to cyclical time of the paradigm leap. In 1976, following an escape from Los Angeles where he "got lost in mythology," Bowie's immersion into the divided city, still in ruins from the war, resulted in the critically acclaimed minimalist "Berlin trilogy": Low and Heroes (1977), followed by Lodger (1979).

A man of many poses: "Heroes" Contact Print (Piece No. 32, 1977 Foto © Masayoshi Sukita / The David Bowie Archive)

Heroes title track, a sparse yet haunting epic narrative of archetypal lovers ("I would be King and you would be my Queen") divided by the Berlin Wall ("I can remember/Standing, by the wall/And the guns shot above our heads/And we kissed, as though nothing could fall"), the global symbol of duality visible outside the recording studio window, became an international anthem prescient of a 21st century icon of unity.

The exhibition itself is an ancient symbol of the unity of cyclical time, the Ouroboros, with the serpent's skins are the Bowie costumes making for rapid "changes" kabuki style by way of his early inspiration genius Kansai Yamamoto, so not to get stuck in a media projection.

A relic from Haupstrasse 155 in Schöneberg, West Berlin, where Bowie lived with the genius impresario Iggy Pop.

The key to understanding Bowie's praxis is Nietzsche's UBERMENSCH, the progression of Zarathustra from the mountain to the cave, the sacred marriage (under/unter and over/uber) forming into human lightening rod -- the avatar capable of holding the tension of the opposites symbolized in the late 20th century by the Berlin Wall.

A view of Bowie's iconic image of genius electrified through the "sacred marriage" of the bicameral mind, from the perspective of a last remaining standing 200 meter section of the Berlin Wall (lower left) on Niederkirchnerstrasse. (photo by LPS).

...which brings us to the hole in the exhibition -- the absence of Angela Bowie, the doppelgänger partner who was such an early influence. Bringing the authentic gender-bender into the exhibition would have made the myth complete.

Who needs a partner when you can be unisex? David Bowie as poster boy for the gender opposites merging into the Age of Narcissism via the genius of a Yamamoto bodysuit created for the Aladdin Sane Tour ( 1973 Photo by Masayoshi Sukita Sukita © Sukita / The David Bowie Archive).

All Berlin installation photos by Thomas Bruns of Avantgarde. Other photos credited in captions. David Bowie poster image from the Albumcover by Aladdin Sane, 1973 Fotografie von Brian Duffy Foto Duffy © Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive
Photos used with permission of Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin

Lisa Paul Streitfeld is a philosopher based in East Berlin writing her dissertation on a 21st century resurrection of "Ubermensch and the Eternal Return."