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The Velvet Underground Experience: An Intriguing Musical and Cultural Exhibition

Ellen Levitt

Posted on November 2, 2018 11:38

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The Velvet Underground exhibition currently showing in Greenwich Village, Manhattan is a fascinating multimedia show about one of the most influential rock 'n roll bands.

Some rock 'n roll bands achieve immense fame while they are active, and a few attain legendary status after their heyday. Such is the situation of the Velvet Underground, best known for their Lou Reed penned songs "Sweet Jane" and "Rock & Roll," and their connection to Andy Warhol. Their first album was mostly a loud, controversial set of songs that touched upon drug use, sexual kinks and gritty New York life, but also had pop touches. They sold far more records after they had broken up than when first issued.

And now there is an eye-opening exhibition about the band and its artistic and cultural circle of compadres, called "The Velvet Underground Experience," open until December 30th on Broadway, a bit north of where they began on the Lower East Side. For devoted "VU" fans such as myself, this show is a wonderful treat. But unlike the hugely popular David Bowie exhibition that showed earlier this year at the Brooklyn Museum, this is a quirkier exhibition, for a more unusual and less commercial musical act. 

This Experience delves into the personalities of each band member, with of course special emphasis on Lou Reed, bassist John Cale, guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker. Andy Warhol, who managed the band in its most outre period, is also featured. But there is quite a bit about their artistic, musical and cultural set: composer La Monte Young, filmmaker Jonas Mekas, actress Edie Sedgwick, dancer-poet-artist Gerard Malanga, and singer-actress Nico, prominently featured on their first album. 

The exhibition itself is centered on the band in its duration (as well as their mid-1990s reunion work) as well as the 1960s of Warhol and his legendary club/artistic spot The Factory, the confluence of oft-radical art, music, film and counter-cultural thought, and to a great extent New York City, which is shown as a gritty yet compelling home for the band and their milieu. The band recorded only a few studio albums and live albums, but the exhibition focuses greatly on the first album, The Velvet Underground and Nico, often dubbed The Banana Album.

Included in this show are films, a few hundred photographs and 1000+ objects. Some of the most interesting include rare 45s of the band, which never charted highly but are treasured. In the center of the main floor of the show is a "house" of sorts with multiple film and photo projections, and visitors can sit or recline on the floor to watch them. The basement level has lots of 1960s artifacts, including a grainy black-and-white porno film by Barbara Rubin. There are even some special events and lectures held on certain dates this fall.

I enjoyed this exhibition immensely, and attended on Halloween. There were alternate versions of the band's songs playing over the stereo system, a special treat for us fans. I spent nearly two hours here, basking in the band's history. It's an odd, eye-opening treasure.

 

 

Ellen Levitt

Posted on November 2, 2018 11:38

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Andy Warhol's Factory was a world unto itself: a microcosm of junkies, cross-dressers, hustlers, artists, and weirdos with...

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