The V&A Museum in London has acquired a massive, 80,000-piece archive of material from the estate of David Bowie, it confirmed today.
The archive contains items including handwritten notebooks, letters, costumes, instruments, awards, fashion, photography, film, music videos, set designs and more — many of which were exhibited during the “David Bowie Is” traveling museum exhibit that was viewed by more than 2 million people between 2013 and 2018. According to the announcement, “It also includes more intimate writings, thought processes and unrealised projects, the majority of which have never been seen in public before.” The items are set to go on display in 2025 at The David Bowie Centre for the Study of Performing Arts in Stratford, which was also unveiled today.
“The archive traces Bowie’s creative processes as a musical innovator, cultural icon, and advocate for self-expression and reinvention from his early career in the 1960s to his death in 2016. Alongside the creation of the new Centre, the gift will support the ongoing conservation, research, and study of the archive,” the announcement continues. In its way, the Bowie Centre will be a continuation and expansion of the ambitious reissue campaign the estate has undertaken with Warner Music, which releases several lavish archival albums every year.
The museum’s new Stratford outpost, called the V&A East Storehouse, is set to be a “new type” of experience which will store over 250,000 objects, 350,000 books and 1,000 archives in conservation labs, research and reading rooms, galleries and creative spaces throughout the building.
The total figure paid for the archive was not disclosed, but the museum said it had been made possible with a donation from a £10 million ($12 million) donation from the Blavatnik Family Foundation and Warner Music Group. A source clarified to Variety that the Blavatnik/ Warner donation was intended to go toward the museum’s infrastructure and upkeep rather than the acquisition of the archive.
However, for context, a similar archive from Bob Dylan consisting of 6,000 items was reported to have sold for between $15-$20 million in 2016.
Last year Variety exclusively revealed the estate had sold Bowie’s publishing catalogue to Warner Chappell for upwards of $250 million.
“David Bowie was one of the greatest musicians and performers of all time,” said Dr Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A. “The V&A is thrilled to become custodians of his incredible archive, and to be able to open it up for 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 Monáe to Lady Gaga to Tilda Swinton and Raf Simons. My deepest thanks go to the David Bowie Estate, Blavatnik Family Foundation and Warner Music Group for helping make this a reality and for providing a new sourcebook for the Bowies of tomorrow.”
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. The David Bowie Centre for the Study of Performance – and the behind the scenes access that V&A East Storehouse offers – will mean David’s work can be shared with the public in ways that haven’t been possible before, and we’re so pleased to be working closely with the V&A to continue to commemorate David’s enduring cultural influence.” Len Blavatnik added, “We are very proud to support the V&A and allow for the creation of this irreplaceable archive to preserve and showcase David Bowie’s iconic career. His influence on music and popular culture throughout the world cannot be overstated.”
Tilda Swinton, one of David Bowie’s friends and collaborators, said: “In 2013, the V&A’s ‘David Bowie Is…’ exhibition gave us unquestionable evidence that Bowie is a spectacular example of an artist, who not only made unique and phenomenal work, but who has an influence and inspiration far beyond that work itself. Ten years later, the continuing regenerative nature of his spirit grows ever further in popular resonance and cultural reach down through younger generations. In acquiring his archive for posterity, the V&A will now be able to offer access to David Bowie’s history – and the portal it represents – not only to practicing artists from all fields, but to every last one of us, and for the foreseeable future. This is a truly great piece of news, which deserves the sincerest gratitude and congratulations to all those involved who have made it possible.”