How did the Rolling Stones live before they were famous? Apparently like pigs.
As part of Exhibitionism, a showcase of Rolling Stones artifacts that opens this Saturday in New York City, visitors can see a reconstruction of the infamous Chelsea flat shared by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones in 1962 and 1963. It includes mounds of dirty dishes, strewn beer bottles, cracked eggs, unmade beds, stacks of LPs and 45s by the likes of Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters and general heaps of grunge and dinge.
The exhibit, which opened in London earlier this year, occupies two floors of Industria, a raw art space in the West Village, and provides a uniquely intimate look at the history of the band. Exhibitionism includes more than a half-century of instruments, costumes, handwritten lyrics, artwork and memorabilia. There’s even a recreation of London’s Olympic Studios, where the band recorded its debut 45, “Come On.”
“The band members absolutely loved it, thank God,” curator Ileen Gallagher tells Rolling Stone of the London presentation with a laugh. “It was very gratifying, because they really came through and they were really quite pleased with how it turned out.”
Although the exhibit begins with a video overview of the Stones’ career and goes straight into the recreation of their less-than-humble abode, it presents the group’s artistry by theme rather than chronology. One section focuses on the band’s personalities and personal effects: Richards’ miniature-size diary and vintage Harmony guitar, one of Watts’ earliest drum kits as well as his “Sympathy for the Devil” percussion, Brian Jones’ dulcimer, and fanzine questionnaires they filled out by hand early in their career. (All of the band members except for Jones listed “girls” under “likes,” and Jagger and Richards shared some interesting crossovers for “favorite singers”: Chuck Berry and Jimmy Reed.)
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Another section focuses more closely on the band’s instruments and lyrics. Ten of Jagger’s harmonicas are on display – as well as a funny quote from him about how frustrating it was learning how to play them. The 1972 Fender Telecaster that Keith Richards played (and broke while playing) on “Sympathy” is on display as is a Les Paul he painted while tripping on acid, waiting to go to jail after the infamous drug bust that colored 1967 for the group. A few of Ron Wood’s guitars will be on display but, since he had recently used them on the road, the exhibition was still waiting for them to arrive at the time of Rolling Stone’s pre-opening walkthrough.
Upstairs, the showcase focuses on the art of the Stones, including designer John Pasche’s original design for the band’s lips logo, as well as original works by Shepard Fairey and Walton Ford, who made a giant painting of a gorilla for their Grrr! compilation.
One of the more interesting sections of the exhibit shows how the group’s album covers were made. The 1978 Ebony magazine wig ad that inspired the artwork for Some Girls sits parallel to proofs of the die-cut sleeve. Andy Warhol’s polaroids of male torsos bulge out next to the Sticky Fingers sleeve; Warhol’s photos and proofs for Love You Live are also on display. Photo proofs for the collage in Exile on Main St. are displayed as are concept sketches of a hawk-plane hybrid that Jagger and Watts collaborated on for tour art.
Another room features a new film in which Martin Scorsese discusses and picks apart the many documentaries and concert films the Stones have participated in.
Another fascinating room contains the main costumes the group has worn throughout the years. Brian Jones’ checkered jacket – from the time when the group dressed the same, à la the Beatles – sits among other fashions the group picked out while shopping on Carnaby Street as they developed their look. Elsewhere, the band’s glammy and psychedelic fashions are on display, as are some iconic looks such as Jagger’s “omega” jumpsuit and cape. There’s also a room dedicated to the chic and frilly outfits by high-end fashion designers they collaborated with, including Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior and L’wren Scott, the last of whom designed a flowing, furry cape in which Jagger would sing “Sympathy.”
The next section of the exhibit is a recreation of the band’s backstage area. There are road cases, some of which are rather old, and others which contain clocks for different time zones. A clothing rack contains a number of looks for Jagger, while guitar cases for Wood and Richards – each with their names emblazoned inside – show their wares. It leads to a room with a 3-D screening of the group performing “Satisfaction” live in Hyde Park in 2013.
The exhibit concludes with a variety of Stones-related curios: Watts’ toy drum kit, Richards’ cassette recorder, Wood’s hand-painted set lists. All together, it creates a surprisingly complete portrait of the Rolling Stones – the things everybody knows about them as well as their idiosyncrasies.
Since this is the first time the exhibit has changed locations – after New York, it will move to Chicago and somewhere on the West Coast before heading to Australia – the biggest challenge of setting up shop at Industria was space. “We had a white-box gallery space in London and this is more warehouse-y with an industrial feel, it’s also smaller, so we’ve had to shrink it down a bit,” Gallagher says. “But I think it feel great here. It’s so raw and the space itself has a lot of energy.”
For the London presentation, the band members were heavily involved in the ideation of the exhibit. They weighed in at design meetings and Jagger reviewed and gave feedback on all of the video, prior to its installation. Other band members offered their thoughts on what they included. (Charlie Watts asked them not to include a mariachi-styled shirt he once wore.)
Gallagher says Richards was especially keen on the recreation of the band’s 1962 apartment: “He said, ‘Oh, I’m home.'”