The Telegraph: The Rolling Stones: making an exhibition of themselves

July 11, 2016


‘It’s fair to say I’m not very nostalgic,” says Mick Jagger. It might seem an odd statement from the 72-year-old rock star as he prepares to launch a major interactive multimedia exhibition of the Rolling Stones’ five-decade career just after the band's landmark gig in Cuba. “Obviously, to be able to help this along, I have had to invest in delving back,” Jagger acknowledges. “But the thing about nostalgia is that it is trying to hark back to something that no longer exists, and I don’t really feel like that about this exhibition. I look at it as part of an ongoing story. We’re still out there, still on the road, still going. This is just the next thing.”

Taking over the entire two-storey Saatchi gallery in Kings Road, London, Exhibitionism has been planned on a scale that puts most other rock exhibitions to shame. “Well, that’s the way we always do things,” says Jagger, laughing. “We never make it easy for ourselves.”

Made up of nine thematically and stylistically distinct galleries, the exhibition will showcase more than 500 artefacts from the band’s personal archives, including Jagger’s outlandish stage clothes and Keith Richards’ collection of rare guitars. There will be backstage paraphernalia, draft lyric sheets, original art work from such giants as Andy Warhol and Richard Hamilton, stage props, thousands of photographs, rare music, films curated by Martin Scorsese, and tactile full-scale recreations of such germane locations as the band’s first bedsit and Olympic recording studio. There will even be a 3D simulation of what it is like to be onstage with the Stones.

American curator Ileen Gallagher, who worked with the band on its 2012 archive photography show at Somerset House, has put the exhibition together. “There’s so much material to draw on, just getting down to their kind of essence was pretty challenging,” she says. “We’ve tried to look at their career thematically and not chronologically.”

As perhaps the archetypal rock band, the significance of the Stones has not just been musical. From purist blues revivalists to Sixties anti-establishment rebels, through the hedonistic excesses of the superstar Seventies to their latter-day status as guardians of rock’s enduring heritage, the Stones have played their part in a multitude of major cultural shifts.

'Nostalgia is trying to hark back to something that no longer exists, and I don’t really feel like that about this exhibition'
“It was never just about music,” says Jagger. His role in the show, much like in the band, has been to direct the bigger picture. “My input into this was thinking about how the rooms unfold and what should go in them to tell a bigger story. I wasn’t very good at actually finding things to put in them, because I’ve not really kept anything much, except for clothes. I’ve got a lot of clothes. They’re very easy to keep.” And, with his physical dimensions unchanged in 50 years, he could still fit into them if he wanted to, a notion that makes him laugh out loud. “It got very outlandish in some periods, before we found a way back to something a bit straighter and more elegant. I think most of them are better in a museum, to be honest.”

Gallagher worked closely with all the surviving Stones on Exhibitionism. So who has the best memory? “Well, it’s certainly not Charlie, I can tell you that,” she says, laughing. “He’d just say, ‘Oh, you’ll have to ask Mick.’ But they were all generous with their time, and remember things about different aspects, so between them they’ve got it covered.”

Everyone involved is insistent that Exhibitionism should not be viewed as a poignant memorial to the end of an era. “It just didn’t come into it,” says Gallagher. “Because the Stones are still very much present in popular culture and they are not stopping any time soon. There’s a great quote from Keith in the exhibition where he says, ‘Nobody’s done this before. We’re just going to keep going ’til we can’t go anymore.’ ”

“It just seemed like the right time for this,” says Jagger. “Some people say we’re always making an exhibition of ourselves.”

“There’s more to it than just music and I think we worked that out pretty fast. Music was super important obviously and we were very much a band immersed in music. We were trying to create something that we thought was an authentic reproduction of the music we listened to. These were the days of lingering traditions, there were so many music movements obsessed with fidelity to tradition, traditional folk, traditional jazz, and we went through a period of being somewhat purist in our approach to the blues. But we all liked Elvis and everyone realised that a lot of the things we liked about Elvis was not only the music, which we loved, but the style and the way that he put the music across.”

“This flat [at 102 Edith Grove, Chelsea] was the genesis of the band,” says Jagger. “I lived there with Keith and Brian between 1962 and 1963. I thought it would be good to recreate it. The first room when you go into the exhibition is very sleek, modern and state of the art, big screens, lots of information, and I like that, but I thought it would be interesting to go completely the other way in the next room, and establish a more old-fashioned museum experience of looking at objects. I’ve seen rooms recreated in different exhibitions and it’s always interesting. You know perfectly well they are not the real room and yet it somehow gives you this different, very tangible experience. And this is going to be very tangible. Pungent even. It was a pretty stinky, disgusting place. But Edith Grove was very formative and elemental in our relationships, listening to music and sharing experiences and just living generally. I go by the house quite a lot when I drive, so it’s not some distant thing that you are far apart from, or that has been demolished. It’s not something I think about a lot, but I remember it; it was important to us.”

“I can’t remember whose idea it was that we have a logo, because bands didn’t really have recognised logos as such in those days. But I remember trying to think of what one could be and I was at this little corner store, and the guy had a calendar with the disembodied tongue of [the Hindu goddess] Kali on the wall, and I thought that was a good image. So we went to John Pasche, who was an illustrator I had got to know through the Royal College of Art, and asked him to make a modernised version. And it was just a really good piece of work that he produced and we’ve kept it ever since. That was an early piece of fortuitous marketing.”

“[British designer] Michael Fish had a boutique, Mr Fish, in Clifford Street [in London] and I went to buy an outfit, any outfit, before the show. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I saw this and I thought it was just unusual, new. I don’t think there was a great plan to be a man on stage wearing a dress. You are kind of looking for something that will work. I didn’t think anything more, and I certainly didn’t think it would end up, 40 years later, in an exhibition. I bought two Mr Fish dresses on the day, an orange and a white one. The white one vanished along the way, but I still have the orange one, so we recreated it based on that. Clothes are an important part of the

“It’s great working with artists, and we’ve worked with a lot, the most famous being Andy Warhol. You have to be slightly different in your attitude when you work with a fine artist than commercial artists, who are used to having advertisers over their shoulder, shouting at them. With a commercial artist they don’t mind you saying ‘OK, I like your yellow but can you make it blue?’ If you try that with a fine artist … let’s just say they don’t really appreciate being told what to do. Sometimes collaborations really work well and sometimes you just have to say ‘thanks very much but I don’t think we’re on the same wavelength.’ I tried to do something with Claes Oldenburg, who I’m an admirer of, but it didn’t work out. But over the years we’ve had some really good ones. I think Andy’s zipper for Sticky Fingers is a pretty outstanding piece of work. The central image is strong and the real zip adds a whole other dimension. It’s seems such an obvious idea in a way, to superimpose a real object on a piece of cardboard, but no one had done it before, and that’s what makes it so clever. But it wasn’t easy to do physically, to make a lot of them. It turned out a bit more complicated than we all thought.”

“Do any of my outfits make me flinch when I look back? Ha. Nearly all of them. To be honest, they can still make me flinch when I think about what I’m going to wear at the next gig, but when you get out there on stage it’s a bit different. It’s very hard to do clothes in an exhibition like this because they are actually supposed to be worn. You can have a very garish look, but in front of 50,000 people in the daylight of summer on a moving person, the impression it creates is very different from having 20 of them lined up in a confined space in a dark room. When clothes don’t have movement, they all look a bit wonky, but that’s the fun of it. If they all looked immaculately elegant and in wonderful good taste, it would be boring. I mean some of them are in hideous taste, but that makes them funnier to me. Some of the time you are playing this for a laugh. In the Seventies, it got to be very outlandish. We’ve got quite a lot of Ossie Clark jumpsuits. My daughters have borrowed them over the years and I think the curators had trouble getting them back, but Ossie made me loads. We were quite wealthy in jumpsuits.”

“I had fun working with Walton Ford on that gorilla image. Walton is a fine artist – he’d never done any commercial work, but I knew him somewhat, so it wasn’t just like cold calling some genius and saying, ‘Can you do a drawing for us?’ We sat down and talked through the different stages. Normally this is a guy that has a studio and paints on his own. He doesn’t usually have someone leaning over saying, ‘The tongue’s gotta be larger’.”

“There’s been a lot of water under the bridge, but I think we still feel that camaraderie. I have a really good feeling when we get together and play, when we’re rehearsing and doing show days and so on. Before we go on stage, when you’re chatting, we still make jokes, it’s very light-hearted. We don’t do prayers, but we do jokes. So the bond is still there and it’s good that it is. It would be really rough if we didn’t have that. I think it would be impossible to be honest.”

Exhibitionism is at the Saatchi Gallery, London, until October 4. For tickets visit Telegraph Tickets or call 0844 871 2118

For the full article go to Telegraph.co.uk

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