Fans of the Rolling Stones will get plenty of satisfaction at the Chicago debut of “Exhibitionism,” an 18,000-square-foot exhibit opening April 15 on Navy Pier, showcasing of the band’s 54-year career via 500 rare artifacts, memorabilia, musical instruments, fashion, film, artwork, books and music.
The news was announced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a press conference Thursday morning at the pier.
When: April 15 through July 30
Where: Navy Pier, Festival Hall B, 600 E. Grand
Tickets (time-stamped): $25- $35 for adults; $20-$22 children 6 to 16; kids under 6, free. VIP tickets are available for $80. Group sales (1o or more) visit BICGroups.com
The massive retrospective, culled from the personal archives of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood as well as private collections from across the globe, will be presented in a series of themed galleries, from the band’s 1962 London club debut to their biggest concerts of the past decade.
Originated and produced by Australian-based iEC Exhibitions!, the exhibit premiered at London’s Saatchi Gallery in 2016 and then moved to New York later that year, where it will conclude its run on March 12.
The exhibit is curated by Ileen Gallagher of the New York-based Ileen Sheppard Gallagher Productions, who came to the Rolling Stones project via a previous artistic venture with the band.
“We had done a photography exhibit at Somerset House in London for the band’s 50th anniversary and they were publishing a book at the same time and they decided they wanted a proper exhibition,” Gallagher said of the project’s genesis. “Fast-forward three years and Australian producers are in talks with the band about mounting a full-on traveling exhibition of their career. My name came up in the conversation because of that exhibit.”
It took 18 months to pull the entire “Exhibitionism” project together. No small feat, considering the size and scope of the exhibition, which is not chronologically, but thematically organized to “expose the many facets of the band in terms of their cultural and historical importance and influence,” said Gallagher, who in the 1990s served as director of exhibitions at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Bringing the exhibit to Chicago, where the band has played many times over the years, was a logical progression, according to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who cites their 2002 concert at the Aragon Ballroom as his favorite.
“I think [the exhibit] recognizes a couple of things. One is Chicago’s rich music history and the role of blues, gospel and jazz in that history. [These American genres] all find their roots in Chicago. The Rolling Stones came to Chicago [in 1964] to study the blues, which was the foundation for their rock and roll. … This exhibit will tell their story, and what a fitting place for that story to be told.
“Second, this exhibit will pay tribute to the influence of Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and what a week to announce the news — with Chance the Rapper putting us on the world map [with his historic Grammy wins on Sunday night] with rap music,” Emanuel continued. “After London and New York, the right place to be is Chicago … the music capital of the U.S., especially when you look at our venues and events we have in the summer and all the art forms here that are uniquely American.”
On the topic of the Stones’ love affair with Chicago, where they have performed countless times over the years, and where they recorded various material at the legendary Chess Records on South Michigan Avenue, Mick Jagger said in a statement to the Sun-Times: “‘On Blue & Lonesome’ there are four Little Walter songs recorded at Chess Records, a couple by Howlin’ Wolf; there’s Otis Rush’ ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ and Magic Sam’s ‘All of Your Love’ that were recorded in Chicago for Cobra Records; and Eddie Taylor’s ‘Ride ‘em On Down’ and Jimmy Reed’s ‘Little Rain’ that were also recorded in Chicago, for Vee Jay Records. Go back to our earlier records and we’ve covered Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry that were recorded in Chicago. We have never lost our respect and love for the musicians and the music they played; it’s heartfelt and intense.”
The exhibit’s opening gallery is a recreation of the Stones’ first London flat, circa 1962. “We didn’t have photographic evidence of what it looked like. They didn’t save anything from the apartment,” Gallagher said. “Afterall they were young men, just starting out, living in this ungodly mess of an apartment and really just concentrating on their music. But with their help, and all four of them were very hands-on with creating this entire exhibit, we recreated what it looked like.”
Other galleries will feature rare and priceless musical instruments and related ephemera, including a toy drum set that Watts used to record “Street Fighting Man”; a scaled-down recreation evocative of the famed Olympic recording studios; a music and lyrics gallery (where visitors can make their own song mixes); a gallery of art and design from the 1960s to the 2000s featuring original artwork from album covers, posters and other memorabilia (an entire gallery is devoted to the creation of the iconic lips and tongue logo by John Pasche); two galleries devoted to film and music videos, including a documentary short by Martin Scorsese.
A fashion/style gallery features 65 outfits from the band’s days of shopping King’s Road in Chelsea (“where their girlfriends were their stylists”) to the unforgettable costumes created in later years by some of the world’s top fashion designers including Alexander McQueen, Prada, Dior, Gucci, Jean Paul Gaultier, John Varvatos and Tommy Hilfiger.
“This was one gallery where we found the band had a very robust collection of items,” Gallagher said. “But it was really Mick who kept the clothes over the years; Charlie and Keith, not so much. As part of the collection we have eight outfits Mick word to perform ‘Sympathy for the Devil’.”
Other highlights include a 3-D episode from the iconic 2013 concert in Hyde Park, and painted canvases by Woods. “He’s been painting the band’s set lists from about the 1990s on, to commemorate each concert,” said Gallagher, “so we have those on display.”
And yes, there will be a sizable gift shop at the exhibit’s conclusion.