Q&A: Ileen Gallagher
Ileen Gallagher and her team launched Rolling Stones retrospective Exhibitionism in London in 2016 before bringing it to New York, Chicago and The Palazzo in Las Vegas. The immersive presentation recreates everything from Mick and Keith’s first flat to a recording studio to a modern backstage area, with fashion, film, artifacts and stage models enhancing the experience. Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen spoke with Gallagher about what it takes to make a Rolling Stones mobile museum.
You opened Exhibitionism in London, and subsequently took it to New York and Chicago. Did you alter or adapt it in any for the Vegas version?
The Las Vegas version is smaller than past versions. There just wasn’t the amount of space available in Vegas to present the whole exhibition.
Mick Jagger told a Chicago publication that the Stones’ lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe initiated the idea for Exhibitionism, but was that before or after your company ISG got involved with the Rolling Stones: 50 Years photo exhibit.
It was after the 50th anniversary (2002). At the time of the 50th anniversary, when we did the photo exhibit, I remember we were all talking about that, that it was a missed opportunity that we didn’t do something grander or more fitting for the 50th anniversary than just a photography exhibition. Several years later a producer came forward who approached the band and was able to make a deal with them to present the exhibition.
You served as Director of Exhibitions for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. Was it an organic path to the Rolling Stones?
I came from an art museum background. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was really my first deep dive into popular culture. After working there I worked for Harley Davidson and the Walt Disney family, and kind of did other popular culture exhibitions and museums. But working on this project felt really comfortable and put me in my comfort zone, and it was a really great thrill to work with the band.
You’ve done a lot of other things with your company such as Spotlight on Broadway and It Happened in Monterrey. You were fairly finely tuned by the time you put Exhibitionism together, right?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. As I said it was a great thrill to work with the band and work on this particular project.
How would you characterize your personal relationship to the band prior to working on this project?
I just remember growing up it was The Beatles versus The Stones. I always liked The Stones more because I always though they were a little bit dirty and a little bit naughty, a little more dangerous. And I guess I was attracted to that and their music. It just spoke to me more. I think the first time I saw The Stones was in Winterland in San Francisco in the ’70s. I don’t want to say a date—it was ’72 or ’74 —and actually Stevie Wonder opened up for them. It was pretty early on and it was a pretty fantastic show. Over the years I saw them intermittently, and they’ve always been one of my favorite bands. And they’ve had such an impact on our culture. That’s the other thing that they’ve been around for 50 years and they’ve really impacted every part of our culture: photography, fashion, film, video, art, design. It wasn’t a big stretch to put the exhibit together.
Do you have a favorite album, or did you get into different eras at different times?
I’ve always liked Sticky Fingers quite a bit, but yeah I’ve morphed over the years into different albums. There was a tour they did several years ago, when I first started working on this project, where they performed Sticky Fingers in its entirety, and it was fantastic.
Where does one start when developing a Rolling Stones exhibition? From the chronological beginning, or with the collection connections?
We just started by thinking about how we were going to organize the exhibition. That was really the first thing, and what was going to make the most sense and where we thought the collections were. The band never collected anything from the ’60s. They didn’t know The Rolling Stones were going to be around for 50 years so we had to rely on collectors for everything from the 1960s, which we were able to do, fortunately. We started by thinking about what we wanted to say about the band and what we wanted to say about their legacy, and their continued importance in not only music and rock ‘n’ roll, but in popular culture in general. So that’s where we started, and then we started looking for stuff. I mean, they have an archive they maintain, and obviously a lot of it came from there but we also had to go to collectors. Also, they didn’t own their music in the beginning too, so we had to license a lot of the music and the footage from various sources. It took a village, is all I can say to you, to put this together. (Laughs). It was a lot of different people and a lot of different talents. It was a very, very talented group. As you said, Patrick Woodroffe did the lighting, and we had Fin Ross, who’s a video designer, do a lot of the videos. We had exhibition designers and architects, mannequin designers. So we brought in a whole host of people to help us put this together.
Why do you think they started collecting their own stuff by 1972? Do you think that was a pivotal point when they realized they had more of a future than they previously imagined?
Yeah, I guess so. I’m not sure when the exact moment came when it clicked for them that they should start saving this stuff (laughs), but I think when they did have a modicum of success they realized “Oh, gee, we might be around a for a little bit longer than we thought. We should start collecting it.”
I remember reading a magazine feature about Bill Wyman’s personal collection. It seems like all he did when he wasn’t playing bass was collect everything possible. Did you start with The Stones’ collections?
We made a conscious decision that we were going to focus on the current members of the band, obviously Keith and Mick and Charlie. Ronnie, even though he’s the youngest member, he’s been with the band since 1975. He’s the newbie and he’s been around for 40 years or something. So we acknowledge, obviously, Bill Wyman and Brian Jones, and Mick Taylor, but we don’t feature them in a significant way. It’s really about the band The Rolling Stones rather than the individuals. We decided we weren’t going to feature individuals as much as the sum of the parts, basically.
Do you remember when the idea of recreating the Edith Grove flat came up?
Vaguely. I think that had to do with somebody that worked for the band who thought it might be interesting to recreate Edith Grove, or maybe the band suggested it. It definitely came from them, not from the creative team, and we all embraced the idea and thought it was a fantastic idea.
It’s realistically disgusting. It’s hard not to reach over and see if the biscuits are real. I thought the record player was one of the best things to see. What’s the story behind recreating the recording studios?
We wanted to do a studio environment, where you kind of just saw the studio right after they left to take a cigarette break. Unfortunately in Las Vegas, because of the ceiling height, we haven’t included the projections. In the other venues we were actually able to include the projections from Sympathy for the Devil. You actually see them in that environment. It’s an evocation of Olympic Studio. It’s not a re-creation. And again, we just wanted to do sort of a seminal studio moment from the ’70s where it felt like they had actually participated in it. When they first saw the exhibit in London Keith wanted to do in and start playing one of the guitars (laughs). It kid of felt so right for him, but then again we had to include Pathé-Marconi studio because that’s the first moment that Ronnie Wood starts recording with the band.
It’s hard to not want to reach through the glass of the display cases and pick one of the guitars up. A lot of times in collections like this you see guitars that look like they’re not among the musicians’ more valuable instruments. A lot of these seem pretty rare. If they’re not playable the impression is they are of value to The Stones.
Oh, absolutely. They’re all from their personal collections. We had some from Ronnie Wood that we actually had to take out of the exhibit because they were going back on tour. We hope to put them back in the exhibit shortly, but yes, they’re all from their personal collections.
Did you personally supervise the fashion gallery or did you delegate that out?
They have a woman, Isobel Work, who is kind of their dresser on tour. I worked very closely with her to select all the costumes for the exhibition, and fortunately Mick kept a good deal of his clothing over the years.
How did you obtain the stage design models?
We got those from Stufish (Entertainment Architects). Mark Fischer, who has since passed, was very instrumental to create those stage designs. His studio also did a lot of work with Pink Floyd. We were able to work with them and get the original drawings and photographs, and we had those models recreated.
On of the more immersive aspects is the recreation of the backstage area, where the guitars are racked in the order they’re needed that night. When did that come up? It seems band-insider inspired. Was that Woodroffe?
Patrick was actually instrumental in putting together that backstage area. He was really the creative force behind that. Those guitars, because they were accessible and touchable, are replicas, but everything else—all the flight cases, everything—is from their collection, and they’ve used on the road.