'Exhibitionism' exhibit at Navy Pier looks at history, impact of Rolling Stones
Following the celebration of The Rolling Stones' 50th anniversary in 2012, band members found themselves amid an unprecedented look back, most recently with the launch of "Exhibitionism" -- a curated multimedia extravaganza that examines not just their music but their impact on fashion, film, art, literature and general popular culture.
"Exhibitionism" will call Chicago home for the next four months. The exhibit, which had initial runs in London and New York, opens Saturday, April 15, and runs through July in Navy Pier's Festival Hall B.
With a budget of nearly $6 million, "Exhibitionism" curator Ileen Gallagher worked closely with each member of the band over 18 months to develop an all-encompassing exhibit that goes beyond the mere display of memorabilia to actually recreate a number of influential Rolling Stones' environs.
In "Exhibitionism," fans will experience nine unique rooms, one of which features a new rendering of the pre-fame, Edith Grove dwelling in Chelsea, London, shared by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and original guitarist Brian Jones in 1962. It was recreated by a team of architects and designers based upon the unit's original floor plans.
"Actually, the apartment is still there -- looking nothing like it did when the band lived there. But the interior was really an artistic interpretation," explains Gallagher. "I interviewed Charlie (Watts) and Mick and Keith, and you can hear them talking about it when you're in the apartment in the exhibition."
Capturing the influential band's earliest days was one of the most difficult elements in building "Exhibitionism." In 1962, as the Stones spent their formative days in the near squalor of that Edith Grove apartment, fame wasn't a realistic concern and much of that early history was lost -- which made the participation of each band member critical.
One Rolling Stone proved invaluable.
"It was Mick. He was very involved, and he was a great collaborator," observed Gallagher. "He had great ideas and input and was very committed to making this great."
One of only four scheduled North American appearances, Chicago made a lot of sense as a temporary home for "Exhibitionism" given the city's long-standing relationship with the band.
"It goes all the way back to when (the Stones) first started touring in the '60s. Chicago has embraced them, and it's definitely a real logical stop for them," says Jerry Mickelson, co-founder of Chicago-based independent concert promoter Jam Productions, who acts as local "Exhibitionism" producer.
Mickelson's relationship with the group spans nearly four decades. "Our first show with them was July 8, 1978, at Soldier Field. We produced their shows in '81 at the Rosemont Horizon and then went to Alpine Valley in '89 and just kept going. So we go back that far," Mickelson said.
Key to that relationship with Chicago is the blues music -- arguably the single biggest influence on the Stones from the band's earliest days. As Chicago's chief musical export, blues albums recorded at Chess Records by artists like Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters are amply represented in "Exhibitionism."
In the re-creation of the Edith Grove apartment, there's a Muddy Waters record sitting on a table.
"There's a video with contemporary interviews with Buddy Guy, and Keith and Mick, as well as some vintage footage of Muddy Waters," says Gallagher of "Exhibitionism's" representation of the Chicago blues. "They talk about the early days at Chess, and what it meant to them, and performing at the Checkerboard Lounge."
That Stones/Waters relationship, in particular, is legendary. The group infamously took its name from the 1950 Muddy Waters track, "Rollin' Stone." But it's that surprise 1981 appearance at the Checkerboard Lounge that continues to wow.
Touring in support of the "Tattoo You" album, with three Jam produced shows at what was then the Rosemont Horizon (now the Allstate Arena), the band arrived in town early. The guys surprised fans in attendance at the now-defunct, then Buddy Guy-owned Checkerboard by joining Waters onstage. Guy and Junior Wells joined in too, and the blues summit on 43rd Street has only grown in stature since thanks to countless airings on PBS and its official release in 2012.
Mickelson was actually in attendance on November 22, 1981, to experience it live.
"The small venues are always an amazing place to see any band," he said. "But the Checkerboard Lounge show was pretty neat. That was a late-night affair. You're watching legends in a tiny place that holds a couple hundred people. It's hard to describe when you see something like that."
As "Exhibitionism" prepares to open at Navy Pier, the 18,000-square-foot exhibit has been tweaked, featuring a new photo essay series that documents the band's unparalleled live performance history in Chicago.
For Gallagher's part, "Exhibitionism" has been a career highlight -- all the more impressive in light of her work with both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Library of Congress.
"It was just such a unique opportunity," she said. "We had kind of a dream design team. We had people from all different types of disciplines come together … And I got to work with The Rolling Stones! It was just a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
"Exhibitionism"When: Saturday, April 15, through Sunday, July 30. Times are selected when the tickets are reserved at stonesexhibitionism.com.
Where: Navy Pier, Chicago
Tickets: $25-$35 for adults, $20-$22 for juniors, free for children under 6. Demand is high, so advance purchase recommended. Tickets may be purchased at the door, subject to availability, with an added $3 per transaction fee. VIP packages available.