Naysayers have argued that the Rolling Stones’ Saatchi Exhibition, ‘Exhibitionism’ is nothing but a galumphing, cynical cash
cow. The biggest band in the world, it seems, saw the revenue generated by the
V&A’s Bowie show, and fancied their own slice of pie. This show is a sign
that the band have just sold out.
And these naysayers are right on all counts; apart from the last. The Stones have been selling out for years. They are nothing short
of a money-making machine: their art comes second to their monolithic brand, which
is the biggest in music’s history. In the '80s, they invented the idea of
international turbo tours: corporate sponsorship, 200-strong crews, millions upon
millions of dollars. They are experts on tax law, charge as much as £300 a pop
for gig tickets, have pasted those famous lips across millions of dollars-worth
of merchandise. In fact, the band have been obsessed with their own marketability
since the ‘60s, when their first ever manager and publicist Andrew Oldham
carefully curated the Bad Boy image that has weathered five decades. Oldham
looked at Mick’s lips and hips, and forced him to the front, knowing he could
make a rockstar (and wads of cash) out of this young, androgynous waif.
A knockout show
True to form, Exhibitionism is supersonic. Unsexily sponsored
by DHL, this show must have cost tens of millions. It has its own box office out in
the forecourt, like a gig or festival, closely guarded by besuited men who mutter sinisterly into headsets. Security is as
high as at a stadium concert, and the ticket queue snakes across the courtyard. No
one, it seems, has been cowed by the hefty ticket prices, which fall the wrong
side of £20.
We press aren’t given one iota of preferential treatment: journos must
queue at length, along with the rest of ‘em. We are all, it seems, levelled low in
the face of such divinity: mere mortals at the altar of these Rock Gods, creaky though the deity may be. The exhibition goes as far as to name our religion ‘Stonesism’, which handily doubles as its hashtag.
After all this, you think: this had better blow my mind. And, thank God, (or Jagger) Exhibitionism delivers. It’s a
technological masterpiece. We have iPads, 3D glasses, and knockout futuristic
design, somewhere between a nightclub and a stadium gig. We’re given a cinema,
costume hall, and two wonderfully lifelike scenes: the Stones’ first ever flat,
more like a hovel, in Kensington (above) and the backstage area of a stadium. “Very
authentic, I feel like I’m ready to go on!”, said Jagger at the opening.
masterstroke, though, must be in the final room, where, after waiting in the
holding area 'backstage', we’re treated to a
Stones gig in dizzying 3D. You can’t help but marvel at the power of
technology to capture, immortalise and recreate a piece of history.
Bits & pieces
And then the memorabilia – ah, amazing stuff, and so
much of it. We have Keith’s Harmonies, Fenders and Les Pauls, Mick's lyric
sheets, Charlie’s iridescent drum kit. Hundreds of hours of footage flicker on
the walls, while voiceovers from the band drawl out from invisible speakers. Two
big rooms are dedicated to the, at
times, hilarious wardrobes, modelled by suitably full-lipped mannequins. The glam
years of the ‘70s begat some true horrors: Mick’s long-sleeved cotton jumpsuit
is a fine example. We wish we were Jagger-spawned, just to be able to dip into this
riotous dressing up box.
It’s not perfect. There’s a hell of a lot of text to
read, which prevents the objects from speaking for themselves; something they
could’ve done with ease. There’s a great deal of standing around, watching footage,
and a few too many talking heads. At times, it feels as though we’re wandering
through a Stones rock-umentary. Why not just make that instead?
While making his
Rolling Stones film C**ksucker Blues American
photographer and film-maker Robert Frank said of the band:
“So much money. So much power. It’s a frightening film in
this respect. And if I could gave shown what was really going on, it would have
been not to be believed”.
The same charges could be brought against Exhibitionism: the money, the power, and
the sense that we’re being hoodwinked; that there’s
something left out of this story. There’s a lot of stuff, but not much in the way of humanity.
After all the razzle-dazzle, we’re no closer to knowing who the Stones actually are.
Nevertheless, this is an infectious, lovable show. Do go; just book ahead,
and wait a good few weeks, when the crowds will have (slightly) diminished.
'Marianne was feeding Mick a Mars Bar in a rather unconventional manner'
Our list of the Rolling Stones' most iconic moments
|What||Rolling Stones: Exhibitionism, review Saatchi Gallery|
|Where||Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York's HQ, King's Road, London, SW3 4RY | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Sloane Square (underground)|
06 Apr 16 – 04 Sep 16, 10.00–18.00 daily, Thursday and Saturday open til 9pm
|Price||£19.00, junior £16, concessions £17|
|Website||Book your tickets via Culture Whisper and See Tickets|