Exhibition / Past

David Bowie in the Soviet Union

Geoff MacCormack, David Bowie in the Trans-Siberia Express, 1973
Courtesy of Geoff MacCormack

April 1, 2023 to October 22, 2023
The Wende Museum

Geoff MacCormack was one of David Bowie’s oldest and closest friends. Starting in 1973, he joined Bowie on his tours as singer, percussionist, dancer, and photographer. As Bowie preferred not to fly, they travelled together by boat, train, and road.

Later in 1973 they undertook a journey from Yokohama, Japan, back to England, traveling through the Soviet Union with the Trans-Siberian Express. MacCormack’s photos show Bowie unguarded, documenting their close friendship and shared sense of adventure. While on the train, they participated in drinking sessions with sailors and soldiers, meeting fans and tourists, and providing impromptu performances.

The exhibition, guest curated by Olya Sova, also includes David Bowie’s film The Long Way Home, which documents various stages of their trip on the train, including their time in Moscow during the May Day Parade.

The Los Angeles-based non-profit internet radio station dublab has curated a special playlist for this exhibition, you can listen to it and learn more about the process behind its creation below:

“When the Wende Museum asked me to create a soundtrack for the David Bowie exhibition on his trip to Russia in 1973, I knew I was up for a daunting challenge. Where to begin? What approach should I take? And how do I represent the depth of what Bowie was experiencing musically, compared to the history of what our musical references generally expect from these years? Bowie was a stranger still, and in a strange world—a somewhat newish artist in the less traveled Europe of Russia. I ultimately settled for the idea of taking a snapshot of the times, just like the photographs in this exhibition.

1973 was an important year in Rock history, just as every year was around that time. The musical landscape was ever evolving at such pace that, except for a few exceptions, to include something from 1972 would have been outdated and anything past 1973 would have represented a new reality; and with the advent of punk music, music from a year later would have been unimaginable at the time. The answer was in exploring the music of that year that was in Bowie’s orbit.

Starting with selections from the album he released in 1973 (Aladdin Sane), including productions and collaborations with artists such as Mott the Hoople and Lou Reed, and artists that would later become David Bowie’s future collaborators (Brian Eno, Queen), the musical universe Bowie was part of at the time was rich, adventurous, and moving at a speed comparable to the train ride he took to Russia. Bowie was a complex artist, someone that absorbed everything around him and wasn’t afraid to explore the outer edges of musical trends of the time. This mix offers a glimpse into what he most likely was being influenced by at that moment, and later went on to define work such as Low and Station to Station. With a heavy dose of Krautrock, a foot in experimental music, and a solid presence in the so called ‘glam-rock’ scene of that era, this mix intends to imagine David Bowie’s mindset at a moment in his career when he was most likely a step ahead of the times, with lots of time to reflect and listen to new sounds while riding the Trans-Siberian Express.” —Alejandro Cohen, Executive Director of dublab

David Bowie in the Soviet Union is generously supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

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