“First you shock them, then they put you in a museum…”
– Mick Jagger says in a clip at the start of Exhibitionism at the Saatchi Gallery in London. The Rolling Stones are without a doubt one of the precious few acts on earth who could pull off anything like this. David Bowie starred in the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2013, and there will be a plethora of punk-themed exhibits later this year to commemorate its 40th birthday, but the Stones belong to the holy trinity of the 60s, alongside fellow cultural giants the Beatles and Bob Dylan.
There’s been some grumbling about the Stones charging up to £24 a ticket, which is hardly surprising given their track record in this department and being acutely aware of the brand behind the band. Bowie in the V&A cost £15, while your average big show in the Tate is usually somewhere in the region of £12 to £15. Admission to the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea is normally free, but given the scale and content of this show, it’s probably too much to expect a free pass. To be fair, Exhibitionism is entertaining and informative enough to justify its price tag.
However, they’re taking the complete piss by selling VIP tickets for a staggering £60. All you get for this is a glossy laminate that enables you to skip the queue. I might be wrong, but surely there cannot be another instance in art history when a gallery sold VIP tickets.
“I’d rather be dead than singing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m 45 ” – Mick Jagger
Exhibitionism is already proving to be a massive hit, so some of the rooms get extremely congested. This gripe aside, Exhibitionism brilliantly brings together a reconstruction of their old dingy flat in Edith Grove, a recording studio, an enormous array of guitars and instruments, oodles of eye-popping costumes and props, portraits by Andy Warhol, a room dedicated to the genesis of their iconic lips logo, and much, much more.
The exhibit I found most fascinating is on display in the Rare & Unseen room. In the immediate aftermath of the London bombings on July 20, 1982, when eleven people were killed in Hyde and Regent’s Parks, Keith Richards wrote a letter to legendary rock promoter Bill Graham concerning a show scheduled for Slane Castle on July 24.
“Dear Bill,” Richards writes. “I’m just getting this on paper after considering this Irish mess for the last 24 hours. Clear and simple,
- Blow out the gig (with all the implications)
2. Throw the ball into the Eire Prime Minister’s court by officially asking him if this show should take place under the circumstances (his decision!!!)
3. I ain’t going unless ALL proceeds (including the local promoters) go to the victims.
Now don’t that make it, easy?
The Rolling Stones played Slane on July 24 alongside The J. Geils Band, The Chieftains and George Thorogood and the Destroyers. It remains unclear what the other members of the Rolling Stones, or their management, thought about playing in Ireland so soon after the London atrocities.
This is just one example of where history and the Stones collide in a highly compelling exhibition. Other highlights include a chance to mix Stones classics such as ‘Rocks Off’ and ‘Start Me Up’, a breathtaking range of guitars, including a customised one Keith used for ‘Gimme Shelter’, and a loudly immersive 3-D live performance. The Stones have amassed a staggering amount of memorabilia after fifty four years of being the biggest rock n’ roll band on the planet.
“I’ve never had a problem with drugs. I’ve had problems with the police.” – Keith Richards
In terms of style, attitude, musicianship and pioneering the entire concept of being “elegantly wasted”, Keith Richards is still my favourite Stone. Mick Jagger may be the face – and lips, behind the operation, but Richards really belongs on the Mount Rushmore of rock.
While tickets are pricey, they’re a steal compared to some of the merchandise they’re flogging in the Saatchi Gallery’s gift shop. An umbrella is all yours for £225, while a Rolling Stones football table will set you back the guts of five grand. Having said that, there’s a great selection of t-shirts for £19.99, and good quality tote bags at £3.99 a pop.
The Stones have been taking the absolute piss since 1962, but when their career is put under one roof like this, it’s impossible not to be completely stoned over.
“You’ve got the sun, you’ve got the moon, and you’ve got the Rolling Stones.” – Keef
Exhibitionism runs until September 4, 2016