A free exhibit featuring 40 photographs of the late legendary pop singer David Bowie aims to build a cultural bridge between Los Angeles and Mexico City. The Forest Lawn Museum's "David Bowie: Among the Mexican Masters" opens Friday, about a year after the singer died from cancer, and runs through mid-June. The exhibit features photos taken by Fernando Aceves, a Mexican rock photographer.
Aceves' time spent with Bowie came as a surprise. The singer played his first and only show in Mexico City on Oct. 23, 1997 at the Foro Sol during a world tour to promote his "Earthling" album, according to a press release from the museum. During Bowie's trip to Mexico, Aceves accompanied him for three days before the concert, taking dozens of photographs of Bowie while getting to know him.
The original plan was for Aceves to spend one afternoon with Bowie on a trip to the pyramids of Teotihuacan to put together a few photographs for good publicity, Aceves told KPCC. But after Bowie saw Aceves' first batch of photos, he invited the photographer to follow him during the rest of his time in Mexico City.
Aceves had worked with the likes of Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger before, but Bowie was a much different subject, he said. Bowie wasn't "full of glamour," Aceves said, remembering Bowie's attitude as far away from his flashy onstage persona.
"He was very undemanding. Even shy," Aceves said.
He added that Bowie also showed a high level of interest in Mexican culture. The photos feature Bowie at Mexico's National Palace, the Palace of Fine Arts, Teotihuacan and the Frida Kahlo Museum, among numerous other stops. During his time in Mexico City, Bowie was especially interested in seeing the work of Mexican greats such as Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco, Aceves said.
Bowie's publicist asked Aceves to be discreet — to walk by Bowie's side during his visits to landmarks and not request too many photographs, Aceves said. But Bowie got to know the photographer, asking him simple questions and making observations. Aceves said Bowie asked him questions and said things like:
- "How many years ago this painting was made?"
- "What do you eat when you're here?"
- "Look at that man, he’s walking with a donkey!"
The photographs were supposed to be put together for a feature story in the magazine Modern Painters, but the article never ran, leaving Aceves with the photo collection, he said. Decades later, during a small exhibition of the photos at the Mexican Consulate in L.A., Aceves met Ana Pescador, director of the Forest Lawn Museum.
When she saw the photos of Bowie, Pescador was amazed, she told KPCC. Not only by Aceves' photographic skills, but how the rock superstar blended into the Mexican art and architecture he posed in.
"There is a very deep message behind these images," she said. "It's not just Fernando's technique."
That message, Pescador said, is that people should study and appreciate other cultures and learn how to respect minds with different experiences and opinions. As the exhibit's curator, she said she hopes visitors gather a greater appreciation for Mexican culture.
"I’m pretty sure they’ll see David Bowie differently after seeing this place as well," she said.
Pescador worked with Aceves for six months to bring the photos to Forest Lawn, she said. The exhibit also marks the beginning of an official year of cultural exchange between Mexico City and L.A., where different art exhibitions, including Bowie's photos, will travel between the two cities, according to a press release.
Aceves said that he's happy the photographs finally have a place to be shown to a large audience after 20 years in his possession, he said.
“It feels like these photographs were taken 20 years ago with the intention to be shown in this place," he said. "To celebrate life.”
You can see the exhibition at the Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays through Sundays. It doesn't require a ticket purchase in advance. The museum will also be offering educational lectures focusing on Mexican culture.