The Rolling Stones' 'Exhibitionism' Takes Fans Inside the Band's Vault of Rock Treasures
Until we invent a time machine, the Rolling Stones‘ new museum exhibition is the closest you’ll get to hanging out with the band at key moments in their history. Featuring 500 items of rare memorabilia, the appropriately titled Exhibitionism is an immersive journey from their very beginnings to the heights of superstardom. After rocking London this spring, the showcase opens in New York City’s West Village on Nov. 12.
“It’s really a thematic exploration of their career,” says curator Ileen Gallagher, “So we can explore in-depth their influence on fashion, film, music videos, recording, and art and design.”
Gallagher, who first worked with the band in 2012 on their 50th anniversary photography exhibit at London’s Somerset House, spent nearly 20 months assembling and curating artifacts for the project. The majority of items were obtained from the Rolling Stones’ private archives, housed in a massive warehouse outside of London. This was certainly handy, but there was one major snag.
“The band didn’t have anything that predated 1972,” she tells PEOPLE. “At that time they were a struggling rock band and probably didn’t think that it they had would be worth anything.”
To obtain artifacts from the group’s rise to fame in the ’60s, Gallagher called upon collectors from across the globe to loan out their prized memorabilia. “We have some of the early clothing [and] some of the early posters. There’s one of the first contracts [and] also some original fan notes.”
The band members themselves dipped into their own collections, unearthing true rock treasures. “Keith [Richards] had a couple things; for instance, his diary from 1963, which was an amazing artifact from the time. Charlie [Watts] had a toy drum kit that he used on ‘Street Fighting Man’ that he loaned to the exhibition. So we did get some very personal items. And, of course, all of Mick [Jagger]’s clothing — the omega shirt and many of the jumpsuits.”
The frontman’s trademark stage wear is well represented at the exhibit, with styles from legendary designers like Alexander McQueen, Rupert Lycett Green and L’Wren Scott. “He really embraced the jumpsuit look in the ’70s. He just thought it was a comfortable and cool look. He did a lot of work with Ossie Clark, who also designed the omega shirt that he wore in the 1975 concert at Madison Square Garden, and the black and red cape that he wore over it quite a bit.”
Jagger also had a special request: he wanted to include the white ruffled Michael Fish top he wore during the Rolling Stone’s performance in London’s Hyde Park on July 5, 1969. The free concert doubled as a tribute to their late guitarist, Brian Jones, who had been found dead in his swimming pool just two days earlier. Though Jones had left the band by mutual decision in June, his status as the band’s founder and original leader ensured that his influence would outlast his membership, and his death devastated the band. Mid concert, Jagger paused to recite two stanzas from Shelley’s poem “Adonais,” before releasing several hundred white butterflies.
The flowing white garment was a symbol of this touching elegy, but unfortunately it could no longer be located. “That was not in the collection. We don’t really know what happened to it,” says Gallagher. “But he asked that we remake that.”
Recreating a shirt was easy compared to the hard work that went into constructing the exhibit’s centerpiece — a full sized replica of West London apartment where Jagger, Richards and Jones lived in the early ’60s, before the band’s career blossomed.
“We didn’t have any photographs of the interior, we only had photographs of the exterior of the building, which still stands today,” Gallagher explains “The architects were able to get the plans from the city of London, which showed the exact layout of the apartment. And then I interviewed Charlie and Keith and Mick and they all talked about what the apartment was like. So we hired some very talented artists and scenic designers to recreate the interior.”
The result is a venerable den of rock ‘n’ roll filth. Greasy dishes fill every available surface in the kitchen, while bins erupt with trash. Piles of dirty clothes lay strewn across the bedroom, while LP covers and tattered notebook pages liven up the communal living area. It may look disgusting, but the band was very pleased. “They felt we got it spot on. Keith said, ‘Oh my God, I’m home!'”
Fans of the band — or of pop culture at large — will find themselves at home, too.