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How the Rolling Stones have stayed relevant for over 50 years

The band is getting a huge exhibition in NYC beginning Nov. 12.


You can barely fit the Rolling Stones into a 60,000-seat arena, but a new show is packing 50 years of the band’s history into the West Village.

Opening Nov. 12, the appropriately titled Exhibitionism at Industria takes a deep dive into all things Stones, from a re-creation of the first apartment they lived and recorded in to their most spectacular outfits and outlandish performances.

Spending more than 50 years together generates a lot of swag, and Exhibitionism features more than 500 pieces of it, much of it from the guys’ own closets — clothes worn onstage and off, handwritten diaries and lyrics, rare photos and more — as well as an interactive recording studio and a backstage-to-onstage 3D experience.

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Curating the show fell to Ileen Gallagher, who has a unique qualification for the job. “I was a child of the ’60s and growing up. It was always the Beatles vs. the Stones, and I was always a Stones girl,” she says.

To that end, she knows the Stones are the best people to tell their own story. “I tried to make it as first-person as possible, so the band is really taking you through the exhibit,” Gallagher says, with about 90 percent of the words and videos in the exhibit coming straight from them. Rather than a chronology of the group — who formed in 1962 and are still touring — “we wanted it to be a celebration of their career and their music.”



Among the can’t-miss items are icons like the Omega shirt Mick Jagger wore at Altamont, the infamous concert chronicled in the documentary “Gimme Shelter,” as well as apocryphal discoveries made in Gallagher’s two years of putting together the show, including a toy drum kit drummer Charlie Watts found in an antique shop. “He ended up using that on the recording of ‘Street Fighting Man,’” Gallagher says.

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The band did much for the music industry well beyond rock ‘n’ roll, too. Though Jagger and Keith Richards had known each other in childhood, they didn’t connect musically until meeting up again on a train platform.

“They were carrying blues records, and they were astonished they had this in common in a small town in England,” says Gallagher. “The Stones were kind of the messiahs of blues music. They started out, really, as a blues cover band, playing music by Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed.” It definitely wasn’t mainstream music, even in America, and bringing it — and black artists — to the stage did a lot to popularize the genre and its original performers.

As the “little raunchier, little sexier, little dirtier” rivals of the clean-cut Beatles, the Stones had something figured out when musicians still stuck to wearing suits and ties. “Mick was one of the first artists to understand that it wasn’t just about the music, it was the way you looked, what you wore, your persona and how you put yourself out there,” says Gallagher.

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The band’s collaborations with artists spanning the worlds of fashion, film, art and beyond began early, too. They sought out the biggest artists of their day, like Andy Warhol and Martin Scorsese. But they also challenged many of them to go outside their usual medium, like asking photographer Robert Frank to create what would become the first and most iconic backstage concert film,Cocksucker Blues, and painter-sculptor Jeff Koons to design a stage backdrop. “Every area of culture they touched on, they collaborated with artists of the zeitgeist that really netted these amazing pieces,” says Gallagher.

Perhaps those collaborations are why the Stones endure — they’re on tour now, with no murmurs of farewells. “They managed to stay culturally current for over 50 years,” Gallagher says. “A lot of groups that have been around for that long are almost cover bands of themselves; not the Stones. They’ve always been on the cutting edge of culture. They’re so much more than their music.”

The Rolling Stones’ “Exhibitionism” opens Nov. 12 and runs through March 12, 2017, at Industria, 775 Washington St. For ticket and time information, go to stonesexhibitionism.com.

 

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