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Take a Bowery: The Art and (larger than) Life of Leigh Bowery

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)


17 Dec 2003 to 07 Mar 2004

Guest Curator: Gary Carsley

About the exhibition

Take a Bowery: The Art and (larger than) Life of Leigh Bowery examined the extraordinary contribution to performance, fashion design and visual culture of the late Australian-born, London-based performance artist, Leigh Bowery. Incorporating previously unseen archival material, video footage of live performances, costumes, photographs and other works, the exhibition presented a comprehensive insight into the life of Bowery the artist, the performer and the individual.

Born in Sunshine, Melbourne in 1961, Bowery moved to London in 1980 at the height of the post-punk era and rapidly positioned himself at the centre of the city’s club scene, meeting and working with some of the most influential artists, designers and filmmakers of the time. As a fashion designer, nightclub impresario, performance artist, stylist, aspiring pop star and painter’s model, Bowery was involved in creating some of the most indelible looks and images of the 1980s and early 1990s. While working across a range of media, Bowery was ultimately an artist who used his own body as a canvas, bringing a radical and refreshing presence to the established traditions within which he worked.

Initially interested in a career as a fashion designer, Bowery’s creations were invariably made to be worn on his own unique body. Over six feet tall, fleshy and pale, Bowery emphasised and distorted his body through clothing, accessories, make-up and prosthetics to achieve a ‘total look’ that constantly reinvented his appearance.

Bowery’s prominence in the London club scene was consolidated when he ran the era’s most influential club night, Taboo in Leicester Square, from 1985 to 1987. His appearances at nightclubs developed into stand-alone performances in galleries and other venues, notably at London’s Anthony d’Offay Gallery (1988) and Serpentine Gallery (1989), as well as in Tokyo, New York and throughout Europe. His only public appearance in Australia was at Melbourne Town Hall in 1987, where Bowery presented an outrageous fashion parade of his own designs.

Take a Bowery: The Art and (larger than) Life of Leigh Bowery was the most comprehensive exhibition to date on Bowery’s work, showcasing over 80 designs from 1982 to 1994, including fashion items, club wear, performance outfits and accessories. Also featured were a number of works created in collaboration with others, including films by Welsh artist Cerith Wyn Evans and American filmmaker Charles Atlas; documentation of dance performances with British choreographer Michael Clark; performances with his band Minty; and photographs by Fergus Greer.

Bowery’s work as a favourite model for Lucian Freud, often labelled as the greatest living figurative painter, was represented by three etchings and a major painting, Leigh Under the Skylight (1994). Also included was a wide selection of archival material, including sketches, club fliers, press releases, invitations and magazines, as well as Bowery’s journal, written on his first arrival in London.

Presenting Partner

Presented in association with Sydney Festival 2004