The Rolling Stones’ first major exhibition: It’s pretty rock 'n' roll, and you’ll like it
LONDON — Edith Grove, Chelsea, 1962. It was there and then, in a small apartment shared by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones, that the Rolling Stones began to plot their assault on the musical establishment of the early '60s.
In squalid digs with dirty dishes in the sink and windows so grimy you could barely see the daylight, the band prepared to launch themselves on the world. Now, some 54 years, dozens of records and thousands of gigs later, that infamous flat has been recreated just up the Kings Road at the Saatchi Gallery as part of the band’s first major exhibition, Exhibitionism.
The recreation of that Edith Grove hovel’s kitchen, lounge and bedroom comes near the start of a meandering tour through nine themed galleries that celebrate the music, fashion, aesthetics and enduring influence of the band that just won’t quit.
It’s a painstaking facsimile, right down to the milk bottles topped off with cigarette ends, cracked lino floors, discarded egg shells, an old cereal box shipped in from a collector in Canada and some really pervasive smells. It sets the tone for an exceptionally well curated exhibition with an immaculate attention to detail.
In the next room, for example, the 1965 Ludwig pearl drum kit that Charlie Watts used in the studio from ’65 to ’68 is surrounded by a couple of Brian Jones’ guitars, a flickering flight schedule board, posters, paperwork and application forms in the names of Jagger and Richards — and their pseudonym, Nanker Phelge — while audio recollections and video clips play at key moments.
There’s so much to digest that it takes a while to notice you’re standing on a photo of some screaming fans. It’s safe to say that Stones obsessives will be in seventh heaven navigating these rooms.
The band’s forays into concert and documentary films dominates one space. A corridor of movie posters – Let’s Spend The Night Together, Crossfire Hurricane, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones, Gimme Shelter, Shine A Light – leads into a room where Martin Scorsese is on screen reminiscing.
He talks about why the band appealed to him (their music was, among other things, “accepting about the dark side of human nature") and is remarkably candid about some of the films in their vault.
An adjacent room, meanwhile, blasts snippets from Stones music videos across the decades, including a cameo from Angelina Jolie (in 1997’s “Anybody Seen My Baby”) and the David Fincher-directed “Love Is Strong” from the actually-pretty-decent 1994 album Voodoo Lounge.
Next, you’re greeted by a room full of tongues, including one really giant one — a tribute to designer John Pasche’s iconic lips logo, which has encapsulated the band’s sleazy, seductive, anti-authoritarian appeal for almost half a century. Lips incidentally, that were banned from the London Underground on a poster promoting the exhibition last year.
The lolling appendages point you toward another space that really hammers home how involved the band was in its own aesthetic — as well as how influential their covers, artwork and stage sets were as rock and roll progressed.
Original photo concepts for Sticky Fingers, that infamous vinyl sleeve with real zipper, and a giant print of the Goats Head Soup sleeve photo usher you on to Andy Warhol polaroids of Mick and Keef mucking around, and Charlie’s sketches for tour posters — as well as some of the posters themselves.
Later, video installations and miniature models reveal the extravagant stage sets that saw the Stones help pioneer the stadium experience. It’s a riot of inflatables, fireworks and enormous bridges arching over the audience that leave you either wishing you’d been there or wanting to hop into a DeLorean and back to the front row all over again.
Replica stage models for the Steel Wheels and Voodoo Lounge tours, as well as sketches of the blow up dogs from the Urban Jungle leg, add to the drama.
Some of the wildly extravagant outfits Mick donned to strut up and down the stage dominate the next space.
While a dogtooth jacket the band wore for their first TV appearance, on Thank Your Lucky Stars, takes the first mannequin, things quickly get livelier, more sequinned and silky, and finally pretty absurd as the years — and the models — roll by.
There are several other headline experiences you can expect to see latergrammed a thousand times by Saturday too, including a tour through a mock-up of Olympic Studios in Barnes — where the band recorded several albums, including Let It Bleed — and a behind-the-stage space full of monitors and flight cases that makes you feel like you’re about to go out in front of thousands of people. There’s a 3D experience too, which wasn't quite ready on preview day.
The benchmark for music exhibitions was set several years ago by David Bowie’s V&A spectacular, but it's not too much of a stretch to say that this one is up there.