I’ve been to a few rock music archive exhibitions over the years and thought I knew the score. A room or two of old programmes, concert posters and record covers, a few old stage costumes here and there, perhaps a guitar or two and then you’re ushered into a room to watch an video that you could probably have found at home doing a quick search on Youtube.
With Exhibitionism, however, The Stones have set the bar extremely high and in the process of taking over The Saatchi Gallery have utterly rewritten the template for what a successful rock memorabilia exhibition should look like. At £24 per ticket it’s not exactly cheap but for any Stones fan, or indeed any follower of rock history, it represents excellent value for money. Room after room after room is laid out with absolutely fascinating archives that go way beyond the old “concert posters and record sleeves in glasses cases” approach. It’s beautifully themed and gives a fascinating insight into the life of one of the world’s most iconic rock n roll bands over the past five and a bit decades. There’s a recreation of the Edith Grove flat that Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones shared in the early days, gloriously capturing all the hideous squalor of sixties bedsit-land. There’s a recreation of the recording studio where they recorded some of their classics and there are huge and extensive displays of guitars and other instruments, meticulously archived original recording contracts and legal documentation and a fascinating display of stage costumes through the decades. I was struck by how pristine and smart the bands sixties suits still look compared to how bedraggled and tatty some of Mick Jagger’s nineties stage outfits now appear. Clearly, they don’t make em like they used to.
For me, however, one of the most poignant moments was walking into the room set out as an exact replica of the Stones backstage area: the admin, the technical gizmos, Mick Jagger’s make-up tent… For a minute it really felt like you had walked in on something very, very private that few get to see.
Allow at least ninety minutes to properly take in all of the exhibition. If you are so inclined you can then spend an exorbitant amount of money in the gift shop but I consoled myself with a £3.99 branded re-usable Exhibitionism shopping bag. A little souvenir of an exhibition that has set a new global standard in rock ‘n’ roll archives.