I walked into the Saatchi Gallery to find the typical starch white walls embellished with a simple bold, bright message: Ladies and Gentlemen, a reference to the Rolling Stones 1974 documentary. The bright lights, bold images and decades of success encompassed in the documentary were now recreated in front of me, through Exhibitionism.
Encapsulating the Stones’ full journey and rise to fame, Exhibitionism tackles their stardom from beginning to end.
I am not oblivious to the Stones’ prominence, yet I don’t consider myself an avid fan. Still, the interactive features of the exhibition and details of the Stones’ rise to fame proved to be intriguing to me.
The exhibition lies over two floors and nine galleries, as the Saatchi Gallery transformed into a Rolling Stones timelapse. The gallery starts with a visual representation of the Stones’ success. A world map composed of LED lights display the number of performances and attendance rates the band has attracted. Skeptical of this introduction, I did not want to simply hear about their earnings and popularity, but see first-hand their growth and expansion. Knowing little about their origin, this is what intrigued me most, and this is what the Saatchi Gallery presented: A timeless recount of where the Stones started, and how they came to be.
The second gallery, however, launches you back in time. I found myself transported back to 1962, at 102 Edith Grove, Chelsea, the band’s first flat. Greasy plates overflowed the sink and filth coated the small space; a gentle reminder that the band started without a glamorous beginning, as four men in an old, small apartment got together and wrote songs. The band’s humble start only exaggerates the contrasts of the extravagance and name the Stones later made for themselves.
The most important piece of all songs is the lyrics of course, and the next gallery highlighted just that. With collections of Mick Jagger’s old notebooks, the songwriting process was exposed in its rawest form. Although the notebook display resembled a museum installation rather than an art exhibition, to see the fundamental beginning of many of the Stones famous songs was art in itself.
Continuing on, the next installation covered the recording process and displayed instruments used by the band members. When I managed to glance over the crowded room, the execution of the exhibition and display of information was unique and unlike anything I had seen before. Small details added up and helped support the themes of each gallery such as quotes from the band members, providing candid insight. In addition, a replica recording studio was built to accompany this section, allowing me to visualize the process described .
Again, although the exhibition was not what I would consider a typical art gallery, the layout and composition of the Stones’ memorabilia was displayed in a visually pleasing way.
The artistic aspect continued to prevail as the exhibition revealed the full spectrum of the Stones’ appearance and branding. With displays of their fascinating costumes to their various tour posters and logos, each piece of art was accompanied with a short description. Although I would never advise Mick Jagger to wear velvet shorts, the exhibition described in full detail the outfit and reasoning behind most choices, making it feel as if I was a part of the decision making process.
Within another gallery, I found miniature replicas of the various stage sets for their concerts. For every move they made, the Stones left a lasting impression, and again the immense detail and planning was highlighted. Yet, in order to create this substantial legacy, their execution was presented in an elaborate manner, as shown with all of their sets, costumes and lyrics. The exhibition came full circle, ending with a 3-D video of a live performance of “Satisfaction” and the exhibits of planning and preparations were put into context.
I could have spent hours in the exhibition reading every plaque, quote and description, but even without doing so, it was almost impossible not to soak up the band and understand their success. The exhibition was big and bold: Everything that the Rolling Stones were, and are.