The whole notion of rock ’n’ roll in a museum has never sat especially well with me. For a start, I think the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame is a fatuous catastrophe and utterly devoid of any semblance of merit or meaning. Similarly, the Metropolitan Museum’s Punk Fashion exhibit of a few years back was equally ridiculous. Trying to capture the essence of that which is fundamentally a youth-oriented art form defined by vibrance and rebellion seems completely antithetical. This, of course, must sound a bit rich coming from someone working on a friggin’ coffee-table book about Cop Shoot Cop, but, by most accounts, rock music was never meant to be commemorated in such a fashion.
That said, there have been times when it’s been handled with a modicum of success. Last summer, for example, you might remember my account of the Ramones exhibit at the Queens Museum. While it seemed jarringly incongruous to see Ramones paraphernalia behind ropes and under glass like some rarified Egyptian antiquities, it was a lovingly curated and admirably reverent presentation (especially for a band who never got all the much respect when they were a going concern, much less alive).
I wasn’t originally planning on attending the similarly-inclined Rolling Stones Exhibitionism exhibit currently happening at Industria in the West Village. It’s not that I’m not enthused by the subject matter, but it seemed like a pricey and gimmicky undertaking. Then, my wife went with a friend and gave it a glowing review, and she’s not nearly as much a sucker as I am for this type of stuff. As such, with a day off for President’s Day, I figured today was the right day to check it out — especially considering it’s only up for another couple of weeks.
Let me just say this: It’s awesome.
Granted, clinging to the notion that the Stones are still an insouciant gaggle of rock ’n’ roll cut-throats is basically a sad anachronism. Much like their big-name brethren in Pink Floyd and, to a degree, KISS, they are more of a brand than a band, these days, which is another reason I was initially wary. You’ll see their fabled tongue logo everywhere to this day, but as rock iconography goes, it’s lost a bit of its punch (although it still makes my mom wince, enjoyably). It was for this reason that my expectations for this show were pretty low. I figured it was going to be mannequins sporting Mick’s old stage-wear while “Start Me up” plays on a loop.
While, yes, there is a degree of that (you do indeed see mannequins sporting stage-wear), Exhibitionism is a refreshingly deeper dive. From replicating the band’s early London flat in Edith Grove, Chelsea (endearingly besotted with cigarettes and empty beer bottles) to boasting a dizzying array of the band’s gear (complete with annotation about what songs specific guitars were played on) through robust galleries devoted to their album art, stage production, style, film projects and video, culminating in a ridiculous-by-enjoyable 3D concert experience, it was clearly designed with minutia-crazed rock geeks in mind.
All eras of the band are covered, which will probably make some of the purists who discount everything the band’s done since Tattoo You (still regarded by many as their last “credible” album) less enthused. As I’ve stated elsewhere, as much as i adore their early material, I have a lot of time for their comparatively maligned `80s albums (I think Undercover is ace!). Regardless of your favorite era of the band, Exhibitionism has something for you.
And, of course, just like a ride at Disneyworld, you are encouraged to visit the inventively stocked gift shop upon your exit, rife with the requisite t-shirt selection and everything from luggage-tags to fanny-packs and infant onesies stamped with the afore-cited Stones logo. I’m not going to lie — I sprang for a t-shirt.
So, is it all a crass money-making scheme designed to fill the coffers of an organization that’s already wealthy beyond rational thought? Maybe so, but for those for whom this music, this art and this phenomena matter, it’s very well done. If that makes you feel old …. that’s probably because, let’s face it, you probably are.
Deal with it.