When Time Out interviewed Mick Jagger in advance of the opening of Exhibitionism – a massive touring retrospective of stuff dedicated to the history of The Rolling Stones – he told us: 'What I didn’t want was for it to all be on screens. People live their lives on screens so much that if people don’t see a screen for a second, they think they’re not alive.’
It’s odd then that’s exactly how Exhibitionism has ended up: on many, many screens.
The exhibition starts in 1962 with a neat recreation of the band’s first shared house on Edith Grove in Chelsea. It’s a rare moment of Stones self-mockery. Visitors walk through a kitchen, bedroom and living room that can only be described as a squalid hellhole, complete with overflowing ashtrays, washing-up piled high and crust developing on filthy unmade beds. Pity the band’s early groupies.
The Rolling Stones in Edith Grove
It’s a big relatable opening that doesn’t require a degree in Stones mythology to enjoy. Yet it’s a shame that Exhibitionism doesn’t sustain that level of broadness throughout. While Exhibitionism is as big and brash as the band itself, at times Exhibitionism veers toward the obscure and trivial.
After the squalor, the exhibition carries on strongly with a recreation of the Stones’s studio world. Though most of the items – such as Charlie’s drum kit – are hidden behind glass, visitors are able to engage with the band’s music in a novel way: by remixing certain songs on iPads and headphones. It gives you the chance to fade up or down certain elements of songs, or just solo great moments in the Stones’ catalogue, such as Bill Wyman’s slinky bassline on ‘Miss You’.
This is one of the few times visitors really get to wallow in the band’s music, though. As a whole, Exhibitionism is more ephemeral than musical and after a strong start, things start to get a bit irrelevant as screens are relied upon to do a lot of the work.
Perhaps as a nod to Jagger’s other career as a movie producer, there’s a whole room dedicated to film, which includes a huge screen showing their old pal Martin Scorsese talking about the making of 2008 concert doc ‘Shine A Light’. Some of the screened films are genuinely riveting, such as the guide to the band's many outlandish stage shows over the years. But this over-reliance on screens badly lets the exhibition down. Rooms devoted to the band’s iconic logo and sleeve art do the job, but don’t offer a huge amount of flair or frills. Sadly there’s no physical recreation of the cake baked by Delia Smith back in 1969 for the cover of ‘Let It Bleed’.
The ‘Let It Bleed’ album, featuring a cake by Delia Smith
There are some flat-out weird things in there. One room towards the end aims to recreate the backstage area at a Stones concert. For some baffling reason, amongst various roadie tools sits a colour printer and scanner plus – hold onto your hats – a ream of A4 paper. There’s also a modest make-up table featuring Clarins toner, Lancôme powder gel and a bottle of Tums heartburn tablets.
Even odder, though, is a proudly exhibited letter that appears early on in the exhibition. Sent by the Michigan Education Association in 1979, it complains about their song ‘Some Girls’ and expresses ‘outrage at the violation of, the racial insults to, and degradation of women and minority women in particular’. It’s a jarring presence.
A Rolling Stones stage costume from Exhibitionism (Katherine Fawssett)
Thankfully, some much-needed human touches are offered by the raft of Stones stage clothes on show. Far more absorbing and real than the screens, this long room is both an explosion of ruffled velvet and shiny finery, and also a way of feeling physically close to the band and their past. And then there are Mick’s jumpsuits, shown on mannequins that clearly want to remind the world of the following fact: Mick Jagger dresses to the left. Oliver Keens
Want more Stones? See rare photos of The Rolling Stones live in London, 1971