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Photo credit: Dave Hogan
By Phil Gallo
The single most enticing aspect of Exhibitionism, the history of the Rolling Stones exhibit that opened this week in New York, is not the voluminous collection of instruments and stage costumes. It’s the videos.
Not the ones they used to promote singles in the MTV era, though there is space devoted to those, but new ones created for this exhibit that had a well-received run in London before heading to Gotham’s Industria. By using mini-documentaries to enhance the story of their 50-plus career, the traditionally static displays of guitars, clothing and paper goods are given an added layer of context and meaning. In nearly every section of this extensive exhibit—imagine walking through an IKEA store where all the merchandise is Stones related and sound is coming at you from every which way—every angle of the band’s astounding run is given a historical perspective whether it be one of the band members or a blues icon such as Buddy Guy.
Martin Scorsese examines his own fanaticism for the band while narrating a history of the Stones on film, complete with clips from Cocksucker Blues, Shine a Light and Sympathy for the Devil; Don Was enthusiastically talks about the Stones’ recording style outside a re-creation of Olympic Sound Studios. The last stop in the exhibit is an energizing 3D film of the Stones performing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” on their last tour—it sends a fan onto the Greenwich Village streets starving for more.
Appropriately enough, the hallway entrance to Exhibitionism is a bank of various-sized screens showing multiple images from the early ‘60s to 2016 to tell the Stones’ story. That leads to a re-creation of an early shared apartment—it’s filthy but there’s a great collection of blues LPs—a collection of the boys’ early instruments, among them Keith Richards’ sunburst Harmony Meteor H70 and the electric dulcimer Brian Jones used on “Lady Jane.”
There are photos, early gig posters, test records; the lyric book from Some Girls and models of the stages used for the stadium tours of Steel Wheels, Voodoo Lounge, Bridges to Babylon and A Bigger Bang. A healthy amount of space is devoted to the story of the tongue logo.
Significantly there are boxes of master tapes and test records from 1970s recordings labeled “mono”: When will we ever get to hear those on an official release?
A New York Times article indicated the strength of the collection was in the stage clothing of Mick and Keith, and while the collection is impressive, by no means does it dominate Exhibitionism. Their clothes are separated into three eras—King’s Road, which covers the 1960s, Glam, which runs 69-89 and includes jumpsuits, capes and T-shirts, and Spectacle, which is heavy on coats and jackets—and the videos here give a fans a chance to see the outfits in use. A “backstage area” closes out the exhibit by shedding some light on their sidemen, chiefly Bobby Keys, Billy Preston and their multiple pianists.
Exhibitionism excels in detailing the evolution of the Rolling Stones as artists. There’s nothing gossipy, nothing to explain the death of Brian Jones, drug troubles, legal issues or changes in the lineup. Oddly, it could use a few more contracts or advertisements or other important papers to show how they took control of their destiny, made records on their own terms and took stagecraft to a new level in the 1980s.
But as collections of instruments and memorabilia go, this is an expert presentation. It comes with a hefty price tag—$37-$84.50 depending on the level of experience one desires—but one that any Stones fan would be wise to pay.