Bowie Breaks Records, Gets Nails Polished in V&A Exhibit

David Bowie looks straight into your eyes. He points right at you.

“I had to phone someone,” he sings. “So I picked on you.”

He’s modeling the best of Ziggy Stardust fashion. The skintight Burretti suit in Day-Glo colors is almost as eye-poppingly bright now as when he wore it to sing “Starman” on the “Top of the Pops” television show in 1972. Bowie shocked viewers by putting his arm around guitarist Mick Ronson.

The lifelike video display is one of the best items in a new exhibition in London. The Victoria & Albert Museum show will be as close as most fans will get to Bowie in his surprise comeback announced on his 66th birthday. (For an Internet slideshow of more works in the show, click here.)

There’s no word on a tour, interviews or concerts, just the new album “The Next Day,” Bowie’s first in a decade. It’s now sitting at the top of the charts as well as in the gift shop at the V&A, which is pretty pleased with the potential profit.

The museum has sold more than 42,000 advance tickets, a record and more than twice the pre-sales for any other show, it said in an e-mailed release. The timing couldn’t be better and it opens to the public on March 23.

As the final set-up was being done yesterday, a girl was lovingly preening the feathered ruffs on Bowie’s clown costume from the “Ashes to Ashes” video, one of 60 outfits on show.

In a first for the V&A, visitors wear interactive headphones. Turn a corner and “Life on Mars” blasts out. Turn again, and hear young Bowie talk about the swinging sixties, mod and mime.

Silver Nails

A breathless documentary tells how he was earning half a million pounds a year -- a huge amount in the 1970s -- and could afford a manicurist for his silver nail varnish.

The words “David Bowie is” are repeated throughout, starting with “David Bowie is all around us.”

This is alongside one of his most famous outfits, a striped bodysuit designed by Kansai Yamamoto for the 1973 Aladdin Sane tour. With its absurdly wide flares and red stack heels, one wonders how the star crossed the stage without falling over.

Unusual objects from the singer’s archive include the handwritten lyrics to “Five Years” with crossings-out. Then the cut-up words inspired by William Burroughs which Bowie endlessly threw about, discarding some phrases and building others. There’s also a mock studio where visitors can hear offcuts as never before, with coughs, wrong notes and fragments being formed into songs.

This isn’t the V&A’s first rock show, though it’s easily the best presented. In building a convincing case for Bowie’s influence, it’s mining a rich source.

You come out with the songs reverberating: “Fame, what’s my name?” After an hour or so seeing Bowie’s name everywhere, there’s no doubt on that.

“David Bowie Is,” sponsored by Gucci and Sennheiser, runs from March 23 through Aug. 11 at the V&A, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL. Information: on +44-20-7907 or

Bowie’s album is on Columbia/ Iso Records, priced about $10 or $12 for a deluxe edition. Download prices vary across services. For a slideshow of images from the V&A show:

(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include: Lance Esplund on art, James Russell on architecture and Scott Reyburn on the art market.