In the 1960s the Kings Road was central to what was fashionable, cool, trendy, coveted. How fitting then, that the Saachti gallery, in its new home on the Kings Road, is the venue for Exhibitionism, a look back at the career of one of the most iconic and influential rock bands to emerge from the 1960s, The Rolling Stones.
Admittedly, the last time a retrospective of this style was this highly anticipated in would have to be the David Bowie retrospective at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2012. As soon as I arrived, listening to others in the queue, it was clear many expected a celebration on a similar scale.
Exhibitionism takes over almost the entire gallery space and as soon as you arrive you can see why. It is sprawling and actually quite confusing to navigate as visitors weave from room to room. A quirky touch is that the audio guide you can purchase to give you extra insight into the contents and relevance of the rooms, is shaped like a backstage pass, and is a reasonably price and very much worth it.
As you are ushered into the first room, titled ,’Ladies & Gentlemen’, a time line on the wall, beginning at 1962 and continuing to the present day , gives a real sense of the scale and impact of The Stones’ career and the enormity of their success. One of the standout moments is a mock-up of the band’s first flat they shared in Chelsea. It has all been recreated using their own recollections. It’s the early years that showcase the evolution of a band, who at the time didn’t realise what a cultural tsunami they would create. The story is helped by voice overs (mainly from Mick Jagger), telling stories of when they first met, for example when Keith Richards re-met Mick Jagger on the train, they got talking because Richards was impressed by the rare blues records that Jagger was carrying. The flat is created in such a way that you peer into it. Personally I would have preferred if a whole room could have been devoted to this, as a quick glimpse of that damp, cramped flat, where many of the early songs were rehearsed, just didn’t seem enough somehow.
There are video screens complete with screaming fans and sell-out crowds throughout the decades, which does build momentum but after that the atmosphere falls slightly flat. The crush that occurred in the adjacent room does show that people are eager for the early years memorabilia, either as a reminder or to view a piece of history up close. The room is filled with old tour posters and concert programmes from the early 1960s, many of which my parents still have, so it was bizarre for me to see them as gallery pieces. Most shocking of all though, was Keith Richards’ diary of the time. Who knew he even kept a diary, let alone one detailing the exact number of fans attending shows in those early days.
For interactivity and the budding rock star in us all, you can enter the recording studio, and, surrounded by the bands can have a go at remixing tracks from Sticky Fingers and Some Girls. Every aspect of the band is dissected, from their larger than life stage sets (with small scale models), their work with icon of the art world, Andy Warhol, to the construction of their gender defying clothes, the pinnacle of cool, almost inventing the rock star, as much as the music.
The stellar moment is saved until the end when visitors are lead through a mocked-up version of back stage at a concert; you file through the door, a roaring crowd begins and 3D glasses are thrust at you. You are then ushered into a recording of the more recent recreation of the Hyde Park concert. The band surge forth and explode from the screen.
The downside of the exhibition, if there is one, is the gift shop where you can tell The Stones are big business. From 80p postcards, to £700 silk designer nightwear, everything is baring the famous lips logo. You do begin to wonder if you stood still long enough, whether you’d get tattooed and sold to the highest bidder too.
Exhibitionism is a wild and flamboyant but really revealing exploration of such an iconic piece of rock n roll history.
Exhibitionism is at the Saachti gallery until 4 September 2016
This Rolling Stones article was written by Jessica Otterwell, a GIGsoup contributor