I spent this morning with the Rolling Stones. Well I didn’t of course, but it almost feels that way after visiting Exhibitionism, the Rolling Stones show that has taken over London’s Saatchi Gallery until September 2016. Details here: http://www.stonesexhibitionism.com/
As with so many rock biographies or filmed rockumentaries, shows like this can feel part of a wider campaign to boost awareness for a flagging band. The Rolling Stones are way above such manipulative moves. Exhibitionism really is an honest attempt bring their fans closer to the reality behind the legend of The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.
Three things stand out about this exhibition:
(1) It is BIG. It takes over both floors of the Saatchi Gallery; 9 large, themed galleries full of instruments, stage designs, costumes, posters, album covers, photographs, paintings, set lists and various eclectic pieces of paraphernalia. Technology is widely and intelligently used to serve up concert footage, studio sessions and behind-the-scenes commentaries and interviews.
(2) It is very well thought out. Everyone knows something about the Rolling Stones. The music and the core band members (unchanged for 54 years) form the centrepiece of the exhibition. But the wider influence of the Stones is also brought out – on graphic art, clothing, fashion, stage design and dance. Collaborators featured include Ossie Clark, Alexander McQueen, Andy Warhol, David Bailey and John Pasche, who designed the famous lips-and-tongue logo.
(3) It is – and I can’t think of any other world for it – joyful! It just makes you smile. Like many long-lived bands, the Rolling Stones have been through phases: rebellious, sensuous, satanic, cultivated, political. But the common and consistent feature of the images on display here is that the Rolling Stones are obviously having a ball. The photographs show them as variously moody, bored, dangerous or mad, but just below the surface you sense their sheer exuberant pleasure at playing great music together.
There is plenty here too for the rock anorak: I counted 37 guitars of various styles and vintages, each one with a story about who played what on it and when. Everyone will come away with their favourite exhibits; I have two. One is a simplified touch-screen mixing desk which lets you play with 8-track recordings of some hit songs. (Rocks Off sounds great even if you fade out everything except Mick and Charlie.) The other is film of Ronnie Wood writing out a studio playlist in marker pen on a whiteboard. His artistry really shows in the simple elegance of his handwriting and the accompanying drawings.
Exhibitionism does what a comprehensive retrospective exhibition should do: it reminds you what you loved about the subject in the first place.