When I first heard the buzz that a Rolling Stones exhibition was scheduled to rock up at London’s smart Saatchi Gallery, I cleared my diary for June 2016, and waited … patiently … for the tickets to go on sale.
Why, thanks to my 70s-hip parents, I’ve been surrounded by the music of these robust rockers all my life. From the moment I was allowed to put on a record all by myself (hey, a steady hand was required to land the stylus in exactly the right place on one’s parents’ precious vinyl), I was away .. dancing around the lounge to that unmistakable, original RnB sound. (along with my father, I hasten to add .. who can still bust a mean Jagger move at 76yrs old).
So, Exhibitionism .. billed as ‘a once in a lifetime interactive music exhibition on the creative life of the Rolling Stones’, proved an irresistible pull for myself and my sister, and our tickets were duly purchased.
On a warm, sunny Saturday in June we set off on the train like a couple of excited schoolgirls going off to meet boys. A quick tube-hop to Sloane Square found us in the midst of an artisan food-market, surrounded by individually decorated, human-sized ‘tongue & lips’ sculptures.
So far, so cool.
We entered the gallery … and embarked upon the hippest history lesson ever. We had read that Will Russell and Abbott Miller of Pentagram (the world’s largest independent design consultancy, and where Charlie Watts had once worked as a Graphic Designer) had led the huge project of designing the exhibition space. And according to Russell, they had “approached the space as if it were a set list for a concert” viewing it as “a performance rather than an exhibition”.
We weren’t disappointed. As we moved from room to room, we encountered a flawlessly curated collection of floor-to-ceiling multi-screen video footage of the Stones through the years, original press-photographs, authentic news clips, sights and sounds … the treats just kept on coming.
The London flat the band had rented in Edith Grove in the penny-scrimping early 60s had been completely recreated, down to overflowing ashtrays, rising damp, messy beds, empty beer bottles, records and record sleeves strewn around and a squalid kitchen! Were we just imagining the pungent aroma of greasy food mixed with nicotine and fags? I’m not entirely sure. In the background, we were treated to a recording of the band members re-telling memories of their starting-out days at Edith Grove.
We moved on to some well thought-out interactive areas, which allowed us to experience a fully-equipped recording studio, remix our own tracks and play video interviews with the producers who had worked with the band. A highlight (for me) were the displays of priceless, actual guitars, actually owned and lovingly played by Keith, Ronnie and Bill Wyman over the years. Right there, on show, in all their shimmering glory. A short piece of blurb accompanied each guitar, and it was interesting to learn that Keith, having such a personal affinity with all of his beloved instruments, refers to each guitar as ‘he’ and ‘him’.
Moving on, we entered the exciting and creative section of the exhibition which had been completely devoted to art and design. We learned the story of the renowned ‘mouth and tongue’ logo, designed by John Pasche, the young Royal College of Art student whom Mick Jagger had commissioned after seeing his designs at the RCA final degree show in 1970 (the original artwork of which can be viewed at London’s V&A Museum).
Of course the show would not have been complete without their famously fabulous and flamboyant collection of costumes, worn by band members at various gigs and concerts spanning the decades; Alexander McQueen being one of a few legendary designers behind some of these creations. It’s said that Mick can still slip easily into the white (Michael Fish-designed) poet’s robe ‘dress’ he wore onstage for their Hyde Park concert in 1969. I can believe it.
What a day. After a fantastic 2 hours of rock and roll escapism, for us Exhibitionism ended on a high .. so to speak. I won’t give it away here, but it involved a short queue and an obligatory pair of 3D glasses.
The Rolling Stones Exhibitionism at the Saatchi Gallery closes on Sunday 4th September 2016. Tickets are still available and can be purchased via the website: http://www.stonesexhibitionism.com/faq/