In 1974, a twentysomething David Bowie graced the stage of “The Dick Cavett Show.” By way of introduction, the wry host cued a cascade of portraits of the fiercely costumed, fast-ascending rockstar. To an untrained eye, the images could have represented an entire cast of different characters—a pink-haired punk, an interstellar alien, a sinewy pin-up among them. The telling constant was a pair of ice-blue eyes with their spellbinding pupils, one permanently dilated (the casualty of a youthful brawl). As Bowie readied to make his entrance, Cavett summed up the artist’s rare allure: “David Bowie is a superstar in a category that has never actually been defined, because as soon as a critic tries to say what he is, he changes—like a chameleon.”
Indeed, to say Bowie wore many hats would be an understatement—he wore thousands. And his ever-changing persona was exceeded only by his inimitable creative output. His bounty of chart-topping albums hosted many of the last century’s greatest tracks, which innovatively fused soul, jazz, funk, disco, glam, and rock. His elaborate costumes, often audaciously gender-bending, reflected his omnivorous approach to music. He elegantly but ardently supported the careers of fellow musicians, from Ava Cherry to Iggy Pop to Lou Reed. And he painted and acted, too, fittingly playing the role of Andy Warhol in Julian Schnabel’s 1996 film, Basquiat. Today, as we mourn the loss of this courageous artist, patron, activist, and, as he might put it, alien (we say this lovingly, to underscore that his contributions to art, across mediums, were unimpeachably singular), we take a look at the many faces of David Bowie, through a lifetime of portraits.
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory