Exhibitionism — the Rolling Stones‘ massive collection of rare instruments, stage costumes, lyrics, posters and album art — spans from their early days at cramped London clubs to today’s concert extravaganzas. Nine galleries, which include more than 500 rare items, give fans a close-up look into the band’s life and career. Exhibitionism is now on display at Industria in New York’s Greenwich Village through March 12, 2017.
Olympic Studios, where the Stones recorded “Sympathy for the Devil,” has been recreated, as has the cramped apartment at 102 Edith Grove in West London shared by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones in 1962. The flat, where Charlie Watts often slept over, has been painstakingly recreated down to the dirty dishes, empty beer bottles and cigarette butts.
Guitar players will salivate over a collection of instruments that includes Jagger’s 1963 acoustic Gibson Hummingbird; Ron Wood‘s 1974 Zemaitis, which he has played since his time with the Faces; and Richards’ hand-painted 1957 Gibson Les Paul Custom. Watts contributed his toy drum kit, a 1930 set that he played on “Street Fighting Man.”
The show’s curator, Ileen Gallagher, reveals the band’s thoughts as they helped her assemble the mind-boggling array of Stones artifacts and memorabilia.
What are the personal items that the Stones treasure the most?
For Mick, I think seeing all the clothes together and seeing that whole chronological history of how he dressed over time. For Keith, the recreation of the Edith Grove apartment was really something that he was absolutely thrilled with. And his 1963 diary was something that he hadn’t seen in a while. Also the cassette player that he used to record some of those early songs on. He had the tape recorder on and he fell asleep. When he woke up there he was, strumming the first bars of “Satisfaction” and the rest was snoring. For Charlie, the toy drum kit that was used for “Street Fighting Man” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
A rock star’s life doesn’t lend itself to saving things. How difficult was it to find the items?
The band didn’t keep anything from the ’60s. It wasn’t until the early to mid-’70s that they started keeping some items. We worked with collectors. There’s a good network of Rolling Stones collectors out there and the band knows a lot of them. So they were very helpful in putting together the exhibition.
What is the most valuable, irreplaceable item in the collection?
One of the most valuable items is probably Mick’s omega shirt, the black shirt with the white symbol. I think Keith’s diary too. And Charlie’s first drum kit is a very highly valued piece.
Touring the exhibit, what do we learn about the Stones’ musical influences?
In the early days you certainly learn about the blues and their relationship with blues musicians. And how they were quite enamored with American blues music. It influenced their formative years and now they’ve come full circle because they’ve just put out a blues album. What’s so interesting was the great reciprocity that they shared with these blues musicians. It wasn’t that they were coming in and covering blues songs and that was it. The blues musicians were very pleased and it worked out for them very well monetarily because even though the blues was popular in England, it wasn’t that popular in the States, where it started. So it had to go to London, be reinterpreted by British musicians before it could be appreciated on its own merits in this country.
There’s a short video in the Meet the Band gallery where Keith and Mick talk about this and we also interviewed Buddy Guy, who talks about meeting the band. Muddy Waters talks about the Stones’ influence on his career as well as the influence he had on the Stones’ career.
What are some of the iconic musical instruments in the collection?
There’s Keith’s painted guitar from the Olympic Studio days. There’s Ronnie’s round disk Zemaitis, which is his go-to guitar that he’s had and he still continues to play to this day. We have two of Charlie’s drum kits, which are really important and iconic. We also have his African drum set that features prominently in that Jean-Luc Godard film Sympathy for the Devil and is prominently displayed in the studio recreation.
What are the Stones’ favorites of the many stage costumes on display?
The early clothes in the Style section, the first part of it is called King’s Row and it’s really the clothes that they shopped for in Chelsea. There’s that very iconic red military jacket with the piping that Mick wore on Ready Steady Go! in the late ’60s. There are some other very Edwardian outfits from that era. We actually have Ronnie’s fur coat that he wore on the flatbed truck playing down [Manhattan’s] Fifth Avenue to announce the 1975 tour, which was the first tour that he participated in with the band. We have some of Keith’s fabulous faux-leopard coats and jackets, kind of a signature of his style.
How was the West London apartment put together?
The designers of the exhibition went to the city of London and got the actual plans of the apartment. And were able to go and see it. But there weren’t great photographs of the inside. I interviewed Mick and Charlie and Keith about it and through their very vivid recollections, we worked with a couple of scenic designers to create the apartment. And everything in it is of the era from 1962. Even though it’s not the actual things they had, it’s very spot-on in terms of evoking a time and a place.
What do fans say they enjoy the most?
It really depends. If you’re into the instruments and the music, then you love the recording studio and the music and lyric galleries where we have some of Mick’s lyrics on display as well as all these really great guitars. If you love fashion, then you love the Style gallery. So it really does depend on a fan’s interest. I think that we cover all aspects of the Stones’ career. And it lets fans who may be interested in one thing immerse themselves in other parts of the band they really didn’t know that much about.
Is there a Stones item that you would have loved to include but have not been able to find?
Yes, I would have loved to have some handwritten lyrics from the ’60s. That would have been fantastic. But they don’t exist as far as I know. It would have been nice to have the lyrics for “Satisfaction,” right?