It’s the Rolling Stones like you have never seen them before in the explosive new exhibition, “Exhibitionism,” set at the Saatchi gallery in London. Artefacts, video, and an audio tour led by the band itself combine to create a dynamic, highly entertaining experience that embodies the energy and persona of the iconic band.
The Saatchi Gallery is the most unexpected gallery at which a Rolling Stones exhibition would take place. A stately, two storey manor house surrounded by luscious greenery, it seems more fitted to more traditional art exhibitions. Yet, the Rolling Stones exhibition, which has taken over the entire two floors of the gallery, somehow suits it perfectly. Perhaps the spacious, malleable rooms are what has made such a large scale exhibition work so well, or the contrast between the outside world and the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll vibe that overwhelms your senses as you go through the door. Whatever it is, it works.
Aptly named “Exhibitionism,” meaning both attention seeking and a predisposition towards outward displays of sexuality, the exhibition combines more than 500 artefacts over 9 thematic galleries to celebrate the Rolling Stones’ 50-year history. It was curated by Ileen Gallagher, and independent curator that was also behind the Rolling Stones 50th-anniversary photo retrospective in 2012, in conjunction with the remaining members of the Rolling Stones, and the Australian production company iEC. Sticking to their usual controversy regarding sexuality, their promotional poster (pictured above) was banned by Transport for London, which asked that the iconic lips logo be moved from the crotch to the bellybutton.
“Exhibitionism” is a masterpiece in its composition. The band is, first and foremost, a live band, and its success derives from the artists’ ability to deliver a wild, crazy show every time they perform. From their grimy days as a cover band touring around various pubs and clubs to their Glastonbury performance hailed as the festival’s best ever, the Rolling Stones are known for their raw talent and energy. The exhibition embodies this in the form of short, punchy video clips of live performances and music videos scattered throughout. In addition, there is a ‘rare’ room with never-before-seen and largely unexpected artefacts and footage of the band, a studio where visitors can try mixing tracks, as well as listening to audio narrations of recording with the ‘Stones, and a 3D show from their recent Hyde Park concert to end the experience.
Gallagher’s aim was to embody both the band, and their context, throughout “Exhibitionism.” The exhibition is about more than music. It is also representative of the culture and context surrounding the band’s peak of fame, and their influence on that culture.
“One of the reasons they’ve been around for more than 50 years is that they’ve been very savvy about aligning themselves with cultural collaborators in all different disciplines that really embody the era. As Mick says in one place in the exhibition, it’s not just about the music. It’s about what you wear, what you look like, how you portray yourself artistically.” – Gallagher
That being said, “Exhibitionism,” by necessity is a heavily sanitised version of the band’s rock’n’roll days. While the iconic ‘Stones’ Edith Grove apartment in Chelsea was reconstructed true to form, including dirty dishes, clothes and surfaces, the rest of the exhibition, for the most part, is clean and forgetful of some of the more ‘wild’ aspects of the Rolling Stones fame. As “Exhibitionism” is a celebration of the band, however, this decision is justified.
Unfortunately, the huge amount of rare and collectable Rolling Stones pieces and footage means that “Exhibitionism” comes with a pretty price tag. In Australian dollars, it will cost the average adult nearly $40 for entry and an audio tour combined, and the price rises on weekends and public holidays. The gallery offers concession tickets for students and pensioners but at only £2 difference, and with no concessions offered on Saturdays or public holidays, can it really be called a discount?
The fact is that “Exhibitionism” was curated for the die-hard music and Rolling Stones fans, those that will pay anything to experience a little bit more of the band’s history, energy, and music. To this, I give a huge thumbs-up. The collection is unapologetic for its prices because it has compiled an extremely high-quality exhibition and experience well worth the ticket prices for those that truly appreciate the ‘Stones legacy.
On the other hand, the gift shop, which offers such items as pyjama, umbrellas and sweaters worth over £200 pounds or $400 Australian, along with a cigarette lighter for just over £1000 or $2000 Australian, and the largest piece, a £4700 or $8800 Australian ‘Stones branded foosball table, could be brought down a notch or seven.
“Exhibitionism” will be at the Saatchi Gallery in London until September 4, 2016, and is then set to tour 11 major cities including New York and Paris. You can buy tickets here.