Tuesday, May 02, 2017

In Fact, It's a Gas: For Fans, 'Rolling Stones Exhibitionism' Provides Plenty of Nostalgic Satisfaction -- Exhibit Review

Special Exhibit Review

The Rolling Stones
Navy Pier, Chicago
Thru July 30

If you haven't become an ardent fan of the Rolling Stones over the past 55 years, Exhibitionism--a museum-like showcase of the band's history, now parked at Chicago's Navy Pier after running in London and New York--is unlikely to turn you into one.

And if, like me, you've loved the Stones for decades, the show probably won't greatly educate you, as there are relatively few insights provided about the music itself or the (occasionally lurid) biographies of the band members.

You'll find hardly a word about Brian Jones' dismissal and death, Keith Richards' addictions or what makes Charlie Watts tick. And tick. And tick.

But if you enter without expecting to be converted or particularly illuminated, Exhibitionism should abundantly delight any Stones fan as a viscerally rich reminder of the iconography surrounding the self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Rock 'n Roll Band." (A hard appellation to argue, even if per the famed "Beatles or Stones?" query I forever lean to the former.)

Along with a "best guess" re-creation of the dingy London apartment Brian Jones shared with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards circa 1962 as the band got started, and plenty of instruments on display, Exhibitionism showcases an array of fashions, album covers, stage designs and more.

Simply as a collection of Stones Stuff, the exhibit is quite impressive, and does reveal that Mick especially was interested and involved in working with top photographers--including Robert Frank, whose work adorned Exile on Main Street and who filmed a 1972 band documentary, Cocksucker Blues--graphic designers, fashion designers, stage designers, artists like Andy Warhol, filmmakers and more.

It's no accident that this exhibit was developed in the wake of David Bowie Is--a similar showcase I saw in both London and Chicago prior to the singer's death--and while the Stones didn't quite curate every aspect of their career with Bowie's multi-idiom, artistically expansive breadth, there is an appreciable distinction in how the Rolling Stones presented themselves over the years.

There are paintings by Andy Warhol, a huge gallery full of clothes from various tours, a Martin Scorsese-narrated video about the Stones on film, models of mammoth concert stages, several tour posters and even a "backstage area"--the only place Exhibitionism forbids photography, though only mobile phone cameras are allowed--leading to a 3D concert performance of "Satisfaction." 

The amount of authentic apparel and instruments on hand--including a full studio set-up--should mollify those wondering if Exhibitionism's not inconsiderable admission fee offers value beyond your average Hard Rock Cafe excusrion.

Though I had to fill mentally in the blanks, having a dulcimer played by Brian Jones on hand served to remind how pioneering he was in bringing global instrumentation to rock 'n roll, and seeing a displayed guitar Keith had painted on out of boredom then also appear in a "Sympathy for the Devil" video clip only added to the sense of musical history in one's midst.

I've long felt the Stones' "lips and tongue" logo is the most iconic in rock history--and among the most emblematic of any logo for anything--so I valued a brief gallery on its creation by an artist named John Pasche.

And while I wish there was more within Exhibitionism about the Rolling Stones' music--perhaps the whys and hows of writing certain songs; a few additional handwritten lyrics--I did appreciate an interactive display that let you hear certain songs while controlling the levels of various instruments.

I recommend listening to "Angie" with just the vocals and piano turned up.

Though I saw something suggesting that most Exhibitionism visitors get through in 90 minutes, my friend Dave and I were there for nearly twice that.

Particularly with a $35 Groupon weekend discount ticket saving roughly 20% and, perhaps more importantly, allowing for instant entry on a day when all timed-entry blocks were shown as "sold out," this sweeping glimpse into the Rolling Stones was actually even better than I anticipated.

Satisfaction indeed.

No comments: