On View: Moonage daydreams, dead ringers, and two Davids
Brian Duffy courtesy of © Duffy Archive
They are two of the boldest, most willfully chameleonic, most gobsmackingly brilliant artists of the past forty-plus years. Their work has thrilled, confounded, frustrated, and moved audiences worldwide. They have each refused to be boxed in by artistic convention, choosing instead to mount risky, game-changing projects that are the definition of challenging. And yes—they are both named David.
Davids Bowie and Cronenberg are the subjects of new exhibitions in Toronto this autumn, a cosmically wondrous occurrence for music, film, and art fans throughout North America. Bowie, of course, needs no introduction; he is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and cultural icon who has sold more than 140 million albums, the pansexual (perhaps not, but just go with it) genius behind “Space Oddity” and “Heroes.” He is Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, and, simply, Bowie. Cronenberg, on the other hand, might not be a household name outside of Toronto, but you have undoubtedly experienced his work: The Fly, Crash (the good one, about car-crash sex—not the awful one that stole a Best Picture Oscar), Scanners, The Dead Zone, Videodrome, Eastern Promises, Dead Ringers, A History of Violence.
Arriving at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) for its North American debut after an acclaimed run at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, David Bowie is includes the Thin White Duke’s original stage costumes, instruments, album art, and music videos. The show spans five decades and features more than 300 objects from the singer’s personal archive. As it should be for such a multidimensional artist, it is a multi-media show that studies his contributions to the worlds of fashion, film, theater, and art, as well as music. Bowie himself maintains an archive of more than 75,000 items, which David Bowie is curators Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh delved into for the exhibition. (That’s a heck of an archive; Kubrick would have been impressed.) Some of the items chosen include more than fifty stage costumes, including his Ziggy Stardust bodysuits; set designs created for the Diamond Dogs tour (1974); album sleeve art; and, of course, film and video excerpts. Everything but Bowie’s gall bladder, basically.
Why Bowie? There are likely as many reasons as there are young dudes, but when I posed the question to AGO CEO and director Matthew Teitelbaum, he zeroed in on the performer’s constant evolution: “David Bowie is a profoundly visual performer, and the identities he has created for himself over the last five decades have had an enormous impact on contemporary art and culture. A master of sustained reinvention, he has consistently collaborated with the most significant personalities in fashion, design, theater, and art. His willingness to defy genres has made his career a barometer for cutting-edge performance art.” The exhibition comes on the heels of an exhibition of punk poetess Patti Smith’s photography, and Teitelbaum sees Bowie is as an ideal follow-up: “The exhibition speaks to the AGO’s commitment to do more than just show art, but to talk about art and the evolution of visual culture.”
Not too far from AGO, at the Toronto International Film Festival’s [TIFF] stunning Bell Lightbox, is The Cronenberg Project, a multi-platform celebration of the Canadian filmmaker’s work, including a comprehensive film exhibition titled David Cronenberg: Evolution, curated by TIFF CEO and director Piers Handling and TIFF artistic director Noah Cowan. TIFF’s first major original exhibition is to be followed by an international tour, Evolution traces, organizers say, Cronenberg’s “development and progression as a filmmaker through the themes of physical and psychological transformation that define his cinema; from telepaths and scientists to television producers and twin doctors.” In other words, audiences can expect material from throughout his career, from his early “body horror” classics through his highprofile eighties and nineties work and more recent efforts.
Cronenberg has long been involved with TIFF, and his importance to the festival and Canadian film culture cannot be overstated, Cowan told me: “He is one of the world’s greatest living filmmakers, and he represents Canadian cinema at its very best. TIFF has had the immense pleasure of working alongside him for the last thirty years, celebrating his films at our festival and others, but also preserving and archiving pieces from his complete film history in a special collection as part of our Film Reference Library, which has yielded some of the most spectacular elements of David Cronenberg:Evolution. The Cronenberg Project is the culmination of this relationship and we are thankful to David for working with us to create such a rich and allencompassing celebration of his life’s work.”
Other elements of the Cronenberg Project include an experiential virtual museum, David Cronenberg: Virtual Exhibition; a full retrospective of the director’s films; an interactive digital experience, Body/Mind/Change; and an art exhibition curated by Noah Cowan and David Liss titled David Cronenberg: Transformation, featuring six new TIFFcommissioned artworks by leading Canadian and international contemporary artists who share David Cronenberg’s inspirations from literature and philosophy. The latter will be on display at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) through December 29 (mocca.ca).
It is hard to top the typewriterwith-orifice from Naked Lunch, but as Cowan explains, there are numerous stand-outs: “There are so many of these objects that matter to me dearly—the bondage Mugwump in his sarcophagus will be a ‘wow’ moment for many people and the surgical tools from Dead Ringers are probably the most disturbing items in the exhibition. But my favorite material probably comes from ExistenZ—that film represents such a complete vision and we have an exhaustive amount of gooey, futuristic stuff so the film really comes alive again.”
Interestingly, Body/Mind/Change “immerses users/audiences in a ‘Cronenbergian’ world across three platforms—online, mobile, and real life—through an ‘artificial intelligence recommendation engine’ called POD (Personal On-Demand).” Intrigued? Sign up at bodymindchange.ca to register for a POD. Note also that Evolution, the opening celebration for the exhibition David Cronenberg: Evolution, opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on October 30 with live entertainment, interactive art installations, cocktails, and hors d’oeuvres. Tickets are on sale at tiff.net/cronenbergparty, with proceeds supporting film programming at TIFF along with education and community initiatives. This is certainly relevant; The Cronenberg Project serves as a reminder that TIFF is more than just a film festival. It is a year-round cinema, gallery, and cultural hub that has devoted space to James Bond, Chinese cinema, and even a kids’ film festival. In other words, the Lightbox does not go dark once the film festival concludes—far from it.
Incidentally, the timing of the Bowie and Cronenberg exhibitions is noteworthy. In March, Bowie emerged from hibernation and released—with only a few weeks’ notice—his triumphant return to music, a somber, spectacular album called The Next Day. Meanwhile, Cronenberg, whose last film, Cosmopolis, starred some dude named Robert Pattinson, is shooting his most high-profile movie in some time: Map to the Stars features Mia Wasikowska, Pattinson, Julianne Moore, and John Cusack. (Incidentally, the children of both Cronenberg and Bowie have made artistic waves during recent years. Brandon Cronenberg’s first film, Antiviral, won an award for Best Canadian First Feature at TIFF 2012, while Caitlin Cronenberg is a noted photographer whose work has appeared in Elle and Vogue Italia. Bowie’s son Duncan Jones—the Bowie formerly known as Zowie—directed the acclaimed films Moon and Source Code.)
David Bowie is opened on September 23 and runs through November 27 at the AGO; visit ago.net for more info. The Cronenberg Project runs from November 1 to January 19, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox; see tiff.net for details.
Christopher Schobert is a film critic for a number of outlets and blogs at FilmSwoon.com. He received an autographed picture of David Cronenberg as a twelve-year-old.