Play To Win
‘Exhibitionism’ Shows the Life of the Rolling Stones, as the Rolling Stones Want You to Believe It
A new exhibit in New York recreates the Stones’ old flat and recording studio, and digs into their wardrobe and art archive—without any whiff of scandal escaping.
The only thing missing from the grubbily realized first rooms visitors alight upon at Exhibitionism, the New York show devoted to the music and style of the Rolling Stones, is the musky pong of young men living together in bohemian squalor.
These first rooms—after you have passed a huge set of screens showing Stones videos and fan hysteria—are supposed to be evocations of the flat at 102 Edith Grove, in London’s Chelsea, where the bandmates first lived in early 1963.
As you might expect, it appears to be the kind of hovel four aspiring rock stars would occupy, with dirty dishes piled high in the sink, more dirty plates on the counter-top, overflowing ashtrays, discarded egg shells, empty bottles, tangles of sheets on beds, and a pair of bizarrely—and surely not historically accurate—clean tighty-whities.
The exhibition’s nine galleries at Industria in the West Village feature not only 500 items on display, but also the Stones’ music, and the voices of the Stones themselves, revealing anecdotes, and so it is that Mick Jagger in this room remembers even the bathroom sink was piled with dirty dishes: He didn’t wash himself much there, he says.
The exhibit, which was in London before landing in New York, is not critically minded. This exhibition has been constructed “with the full participation” of Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, and Ronnie Wood. There is no sniff of controversy, no mention of private and public scandals, or of problems in the band, no whisper of the violent tragedy of Altamont, or drink, drugs, and broken marriages. This is sheer, unapologetic fandom: a paradise for Stones nerds, who should set aside many hours to pore over everything.
There are videos of the concerts. Display cases show such ephemera as the band’s first U.S. tour program of 1964, their first contract, and album, and Keith Richards’s diary from 1963.
Asked by the band’s fan club what their personal ambitions were: Charlie Watts said to “Own a pink Cadillac.” Brian Jones wanted “to live on a houseboat and have a very fast speedboat.”
A recreation of a studio, complete with instruments, features the memories of all the band members: Keith Richards says he is the one who insists they try out pieces over and over again; Charlie Watts calls it working to “Keith time,” with a song being worked over almost 40 times.
We learn how “Ruby Tuesday” was made, and that the band’s logo—that livid pair of red lips, part-sexual, part-comical—was not a riff on what many have assumed to have been Jagger’s own famously puffy ones.
John Pasche, who designed the lips, says that Jagger had first presented him with a picture of Kali, the Hindu goddess with the pointed tongue. “Lots of people ask me if it was based on Mick Jagger’s lips, and I have to say it initially wasn’t,” he says.
Another room features a room of the band’s guitars, including Richards’s custom 1957 Gibson Les Paul. In the center of the room you can listen not only to a selection of Rolling Stones songs—including “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Start Me Up,” and “Angie”—but play with all the various levels as if you were mixing them yourself.
A room of album designs and posters includes Robert Brownjohn’s birthday cake for “Let It Bleed” (baked by British culinary icon Delia Smith), and Andy Warhol’s suggestively zippered pair of jeans, which he photographed for “Sticky Fingers,” and a series of display cases showing scale models of the Stones’ staging of recent concerts. The curation feels very personal in places, like the set lists Ronnie Wood’s composes of the songs the bands rehearse on tour, all done in colorful pens.
The photographer David Bailey, who captured Jagger with his head swathed in a silk scarf, had told Jagger he wanted to style him like Hepburn—it was only when they were doing the shoot that Bailer realized Jagger had meant “Audrey” when he had meant “Katherine.” Jagger loves the dress-up: The spirit of the 1960s—its sexual and artistic boundaries blurring—is most playfully imagined by him.
This gallery of albums and photographs, like the Polaroids Warhol took of band members—with playful body biting between the men—begins to allude to their impact on style itself. The look we see on Jagger is first smart mop-top, and then snake-hipped glam rocker. The lip logo and album designs are exercises in pure pop.
The final set of galleries pays full-throttle tribute to the fashion of the Stones themselves: straight men who began their music life decked in the polite uniform of checked suits, and then fully embraced Glam, and now whatever tight, colorful damn thing they like.
On a series of mannequins, we follow them from embracing the Swinging London King’s Road era of the late 1960s: velvet jackets, frock coats, ruffled shirts and—as designer Anna Sui says—antique military jackets and Grenadier Guardsman jackets. A photo of Jagger shows him encased in a jacket with a luxuriant fur hood.
Into the 1970s, while the Stones weren’t as gender-blurring as artists like Bowie and Marc Bolan in how they dressed, like the Beatles they loved velvets and brocade, purples, and colorfully designed suits. Shirts came with long neckerchiefs or floaty scarves.
It was Jagger, and remains Jagger—mainly thanks to that amazing body—who experimented the most, and we see the chest-cleaving, crotch-skimming, hip-hugging jumpsuits he began to wear. All of the band members seem to have been fans of richly colored or elaborately designed long coats.
In later years, the clothes got fancier and more luxe, as designed by Alexander McQueen, Gianni Versace, and Prada (notably, a red feather coat the latter designed for Jagger). The most stunning, and it turns out poignant, garment—a mass of black marabou feathers, like a giant camp crow—was designed for Jagger by his partner L’Wren Scott in 2012. She committed suicide, aged 49, two years later.
This kaleidoscope of fashion would serve as a memorable finale, but the Stones are best-known for their music rather than threads. And so, we are guided through a typical “backstage area” of a Stones concert—all the trunks, and cables, and studio equipment and a dressing room with a rack of clothes, until you are guided into a room and given 3D spectacles to watch the band sing “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” live in concert, with petals falling seemingly around your head and the magnificent sight of Jagger strutting that angry-peacock stride of his right at you, arms waving like demented scythes. If the Stones are ageing, they haven’t received the cocoa-and-slippers memo, and it’s marvelous to behold.
Jagger’s golden shirt flares like a billowing cape, his bandmates laugh and jam around him, the crowd roar, laugh, and weep with joy at watching them. And so it is that the Stones magnificently go on rolling.
Exhibitionism runs until March 12 at Industria, 775 Washington Street (at West 12th Street). Details here.