Celebration to mark 50 years since David Bowie released Aladdin Sane album

A 50th anniversary celebration of David Bowie’s album Aladdin Sane will be launched at London’s Southbank Centre in April.

The Aladdin Sane: 50 Years exhibition has been curated by Chris Duffy, the son of photographer Brian Duffy who worked with the late Bowie to create his highly recognisable lightning flash portrait.

The show, which will celebrate 50 years since the 1973 release of Bowie’s sixth studio album, will run for two months and include artwork from the album, including the lightning flash portrait, and a line-up of live music and talks.

David Bowie – Isle of Wight Festival – Seaclose Park, Newport
David Bowie (Yui Mok/PA)

Speaking about his work ahead of the exhibition, Chris Duffy said: “My father’s image of Bowie is often called the Mona Lisa of Pop. It’s important to remember it was the result of a short studio shoot using film, which then had to be sent out for commercial processing.

“There were no instant digital images or photoshop then. It’s extraordinary how it’s lasted and been endlessly reworked. Wherever I go in the world, it’s always somewhere on a T-shirt.”

The exhibition, which will launch on April 6 in the Spirit Level at the Royal Festival Hall, is set to explore the portrait by mapping how Bowie continuously reinvented his image throughout his career and inspired his fans to do the same.

Curated by Chris Duffy and Geoff Marsh, the exhibition will look at the music scene of the early 1970s, when Bowie and Brian Duffy first met, and go on to chart the relationship that developed between the musician and photographer, which led to the 1973 photoshoot at which the Aladdin Sane image was created.

As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, a number of artists will pay tribute to Bowie and Aladdin Sane in the Royal Festival Hall on April 21.

The Nu Civilisation Orchestra will host the event, which will see Anna Calvi, Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters, Tawiah, Roxanne Tataei and Lynks perform Bowie’s album in its entirety, including hits such as The Jean Genie, Drive In Saturday and Lady Grinning Soul.

Brian Duffy (Duffy Archive/PA)
Brian Duffy (Duffy Archive/PA)

The Queen Elizabeth Hall Foyer will host two nights of club music in celebration of Bowie on April 21 and 22, with DJ collective Queer House Party and Afro-Caribbean-inspired Queer Bruk.

There will also be a number of talks and poetry events, with readings from the likes of Luke Kennard, Keith Jarrett, Golnoosh Nour and Mark Waldron, who are among 10 poets to have been commissioned to write a new poem inspired by a track from Aladdin Sane.

Of the upcoming celebrations, the artistic director of the Southbank Centre, Mark Ball, said: “We’re honoured to pay tribute to David Bowie, who made his Southbank Centre debut in 1969.

“The Aladdin Sane album cover portrait is considered to be one of the most influential pop culture images of the past half century, and the music remains fresh and contemporary, so we wanted to recognise this major anniversary and reflect on the album and its artwork’s enduring legacy.

“It’s a work that continues to inspire today’s contemporary artists and the gender fluidity of the images still resonates deeply in queer culture in the UK and across the world.”

Tickets for the events are on sale from March 1.