ARTS AND CULTURE
Must See: The Rolling Stones Are Officially a Museum Piece
Exhibitionism will celebrate the rock legends in Chicago, a city that holds a special place in their aging hearts
What Rolling Stones fan wouldn’t want to get up close and personal with one of Keith Richards’ most cherished guitars – maybe close enough to smell the lingering scent of nicotine?
Or how about a peek at Mick Jagger’s lyric book featuring hand-written words for Miss You and Worried About You, two of the greatest rock songs ever? And any Stones fan would appreciate taking in the daring white dress Mick pranced around in during a free London concert back in 1969 – just two days after band co-founder Brian Jones was found dead in a swimming pool.
In the museum-style show Exhibitionism, opening in Chicago on April 15, 2017, the British rock legends expose themselves as they’ve never done before.
Produced by Australia’s iEC Exhibitions! for an estimated US$4.9 million, Exhibitionism premiered at London’s Saatchi Gallery last spring. Per the New York Times, more than 350,000 people visited the four-month, self-indulgent retrospective before it moved on to New York’s Industria gallery for an additional four months.
Curator Ileen Gallagher, who spent around 20 months assembling and curating artifacts for the massive project, says most of the more than 500 items on display are kept at the Rolling Stones’ private archives, located in a warehouse just outside of London.
The haul includes personal diaries, album covers, recordings, valuable works of art and rare films, and the experience culminates in a backstage-to-onstage 3D concert video. Naturally the whole visit is set to an all-Stones soundtrack.
The Chicago Connection
Chicago’s run at Navy Pier, set to conclude on July 30 will also be set in a larger space than the London and New York shows, Gallagher says. “We have more space in Chicago, so we will expand a little more.”
And given the band’s long, loving relationship with Chicago, a number of the extra exhibits will relate to the Stones’ past exploits here. Photos of the Rolling Stones with local blues legends and at the seminal Chess Records studio will be displayed prominently in a special photo gallery.
“They have a long history with the city,” says Gallagher, who also worked with the Stones on a 50th anniversary photography exhibition in 2012. “I was just going through their archives, and they’ve performed many times in Chicago.”
Beyond that, the Stones found part of their soul in Chicago music. More than 50 years ago, band members got their first real taste of Chicago blues. In 1964, two years after the band formed in London, they found themselves recording at Chess Records, the pioneering blues studio on the South Side. The influence rubbed off and stuck with them.
This was a pivotal period of the Stones’ career because it was the first time they met their idols, the blues gods, like Muddy Waters – often cited as the "father of modern Chicago blues” – as well as legendary guitarist Buddy Guy and the flamboyant showman Howlin’ Wolf.
Waters, in fact, was most important because the scruffy young musicians had studied his music for years and named the band after his hit song Rollin’ Stone.
The Stones returned to their Chicago blues roots last fall with Blue & Lonesome, a new album covering classic blues songs by the likes of Guy, Waters and Willie Dixon.
As well as the Chicago-centric photo gallery, the local version of the show will use its increased square footage to show off some artifacts that will be revealed closer to the opening.
A reimagined version of the band’s first flat is certain to pique most visitors’ curiosity.
Before they could live in, say, mansions in the south of France, the young Stones inhabited in a tiny London apartment, and it was downright dirty.
Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts gave vivid descriptions of the pad, since there don’t seem to be any photographs of it. Gallagher set out to make it as realistic as possible, with grimy dishes in the sink, vintage Playboy copies strewn about, and the stench of stale beer and foul-smelling socks in the air. It wasn’t the sort of spot to bring back groupies, but that’s what the surviving Stones wanted people to see.
“The band was really keen on us doing the recreation of the apartment, and it was Mick Jagger who had suggested that we work with this scenic designer Robin Brown,” says Gallagher.
“He helped us conceive what this would look like. The band just loved it when they saw it. Keith said that he felt like he was home. And Mick exclaimed, ‘Oh my God, this is just perfect. It reminds me of my son’s first apartment!’ ”
Squalid flats aside, Exhibitionism is a family-friendly experience open to all ages, so it’s tame in comparison of what really goes on behind the scenes with rock ‘n’ roll types on this level of fame.
Still, visitors are expected to become completely immersed in the 90-minute experience. For example, there’s a “backstage” area, giving fans a sense of what it feels like before the band performs, and a recreation of their recording studio with original instruments.
More instruments may be found in a custom-designed guitar gallery that brings together examples of some of Richards’, Ronnie Woods’ and Jagger’s most cherished toys. That includes a Maton, which famously disintegrated as Richards reached the final notes of Gimme Shelter. The exhibition also displays the original toy drum kit Charlie Watts used in the recording of Street Fighting Man.
Expect to also see some of the Stones’ most colorful onstage/offstage outfits, from designers including Anna Sui, Jean Paul Gaultier, Prada and Alexander McQueen.
As for that white dress Jagger wore? Nearly 50 years later, it still has the capacity to shock – if you remember that it was essentially worn as mourning attire.
Tickets can be purchased at www.stonesexhibitionism.com.