While the touring plans of the Rolling Stones are on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian fans of the British legends do have something to look forward to. The large-scale travelling Rolling Stones exhibit Unzipped will make its lone Canadian stop at THEMUSEUM in Kitchener, Ont., from Nov. 2, 2021 to Jan. 30, 2022.
Unzipped is an updated and rebranded version of the globe-trotting Stones museum installation Exhibitionism, which opened at London’s Saatchi Gallery in 2015, before moving on to New York, Chicago, Las Vegas and Sydney, Australia. The 10,000-square-foot spectacle exhibit opens at the Groninger Museum in the Dutch city of Groningen on Nov. 14. Fifteen shipping containers are required to haul around its artwork, artifacts, musical instruments and stage costumes.
How did a former children’s museum in a B-market land a blockbuster installation? Tenacity, apparently.
“We knew there was no Canadian date for the exhibit, so we just continued to contact Rolling Stones management,” said David Marskell, chief executive officer of THEMUSEUM. “All of a sudden we were in negotiations.”
Those talks concluded a couple of weeks back. Marskell, a 65-year-old Stones fan who first saw the band at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1972, never considered his pursuit of Unzipped as a pie in the sky.
“You don’t know what you can get until you ask,” he told The Globe and Mail.
Marskell and THEMUSEUM do have experience with mammoth touring exhibits, having hosted Titanic: The Artifact Exhibit for four months in 2010. The installation too big to fail drew some 50,000 visitors to a downtown site that formerly housed a department store. Since opening in 2003, THEMUSEUM curated the original exhibit Andy Warhol’s Factory in 2009 and has worked with Yoko Ono on a pair of occasions.
THEMUSEUM has no permanent collection. Instead it relies on what Marskell calls “experiential happenings,” last year’s FLOW: The Menstruation Exhibition and AFTERLIFE: A Séance Experience among them.
In gist and scope, Unzipped compares to David Bowie Is …, the epic touring survey of the art and life of the artful British pop star. It drew a little more than 146,000 visitors to the Art Gallery of Ontario during a nine-week run in 2013.
Marskell forecasts at least 65,000 people will visit Unzipped, and he doesn’t expect to blast out the museum’s marketing budget to pull off those numbers.
“The Rolling Stones brand is so powerful,” he said. “We don’t have to teach people about the band or explain them.”
The show is one more exhibition that relies on the renown of musical icons to entice mass audiences through museum doors. In addition to David Bowie Is …, examples include Björk at the Museum of Modern Art in 2015 and Play It Loud last year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, both in New York. The latter exhibit of instruments and costumes was co-organized with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a mammoth Cleveland-based shrine to the genre.
The title Unzipped references the sexually suggestive cover of the band’s Sticky Fingers album from 1971. Conceived by Andy Warhol, the record’s original artwork involved a functioning zipper that when opened revealed a pair of men’s briefs.
One key attraction within Unzipped is a recreation of the squalid two-room flat on Edith Grove in London that band founders Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Brian Jones moved into in 1962. “It was disgusting,” Richards once said about the apartment. “Mould growing on the walls.”
Tickets for Unzipped go on sale this November.