Pop Career Retrospectives as Art

Two pop career retrospective exhibitions will launch on 23rd March 2013 in the UK: David Bowie Is and The House of Annie Lennox. The career retrospective of pop stars is a successful curation tool for exhibitions. Even more so when that pop star has often been referred to as an artist themselves.

The cult of career retrospective

Such an exhibition can be popular and lucrative, appealing not just to historians and exhibition-goers but to anyone with an interest in that person. Both Annie Lennox and David Bowie are pop stars whose career output has been connected to art itself.

Their public personae and connections to the art world’s visual pioneers have garnered respect for their efforts. These musicians and performers appear to have kept their individuality and creativity intact within a very commercial, manipulative industry.

Excavation as curation

Like archaeologists we are looking for clues at these exhibitions. Clues about people we have never met but people we nevertheless have a perceived relationship with.

Who hasn’t identified with, even obsessed over, a pop star at some point in their youth? By this very nature of our relationship with them, a curiosity for the intricate details of their life and career takes over. These exhibits always offer both personal and professional objects from the pop star’s archive. This glorifies the artifacts of people we perhaps have idolised for years by bringing them together as a collection. People we have aspired to, identified with, lusted over when we were just getting to know ourselves. People we think we know and identify with but really we don’t know at all.

Our heroic icons are opening up their lives to us — or are they? Is it just detritis? Is it just flotsam and jetsam? Well, it’s for us to decide if we want to look beyond the hype of an anticipated exhibition.

The two exhibitions are dubbed self-portraits and artistic oeuvres. Do we hope to gain insight into the persons themselves, to make them human? Or are we cementing their status as modern gods, idols to be worshipped, every detail to be held as important?

The exhibitions are:

Edinburgh, Scotland: The House of Annie Lennox

at Scottish National Portrait Gallery (in partnership with the V&A)
23 March – 30 June 2013. Free admission.
This exhibition spans the whole career of Annie Lennox photos, personal objects, awards, videos, costumes. It is a touring exhibition and has been shown already in Salford and Aberdeen in 2012.

London, England: David Bowie Is

Victoria & Albert Museum
23 March – 11 August 2013, more information and book tickets at the V&A online.
It is the first international career retrospective of pop star David Bowie. Collected objects include lyrics, videos, photgraphy, costumes, instruments.

Curating a successful career has become a popular method for bringing together an exhibition. But does it work only with celebrities? I guess the notion is really that it works most powerfully with subjects that we have a formed opinion of already. Exhibitions can show another side to the cliché that we think we know, celebrity or otherwise.

David Bowie
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