Tuesday - Sunday through December 30, $30-$50
The front cover of Michael Leigh’s 1963 paperback, The Velvet Underground, declares, “Here is an incredible book. It will shock and amaze you. But as a documentary on the sexual corruption of our age, it is a must for every thinking adult.” Fittingly, one of the most influential bands in music history took its name from that tome, one of many facts one can learn at “The Velvet Underground Experience,” a pop-up exhibit continuing in Greenwich Village through December 30. From 1964 to 1970, the Velvet Underground released four studio albums that ultimately helped change the face of rock and roll and thoroughly situated music amid the avant-garde art world. The exhibition consists of hundreds of photographs (by Fred W. McDarrah, Stephen Shore, Nat Finkelstein, Billy Name, and others), archival footage, six new short nonfiction films, and biographical stations dedicated to each band member — Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker, Angus MacLise, Nico, Doug Yule, and Walter Powers — in addition to others who played a role in the band’s development, including Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, Danny Williams, Gerard Malanga, Candy Darling, Piero Heliczer, Jonas Mekas, Barbara Rubin, La Monte Young, and Allen Ginsberg. Allan Rothschild’s twelve-minute film goes back and forth between the childhoods of Reed and Cale, revealing fascinating similarities and differences (for example, they were born merely a week apart in March 1942), and Reed’s younger sister, Merrill Reed Weiner, shares intimate details about her brother’s psychological issues. Véronique Jacquinet’s ten-minute work traces the rise of Christa Päffgen, better known as Nico.
Curated by Christian Fevret, and Carole Mirabello and designed by Matali Crasset, the exhibition is centered by a tentlike structure where visitors can lie down on silver mattresses and watch projections of rare, short films surrounding the band’s debut album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, aka the Banana Album, and the live show known as the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Warhol’s screen tests of the band run continuously on one wall. Tony C. Janelli and Robert Pietri’s animated short, The Velvet Underground Played at My High School, is a fun film about the band’s first gig at Summit High School in New Jersey in December 1965 (opening for the Myddle Class), which did not exactly go over so well, save for its impact on one fifteen-year-old student. Downstairs is a look at what Greenwich Village was like in the 1960s and 1970s, with clips of Nico, Cale, and Reed’s acoustic reunion show in 1972 in Le Bataclan, a split-screen tribute to Rubin by Mekas, and experimental works from the Film-Makers’ Cooperative, including Rubin’s X-rated art-porn favorite, Christmas on Earth. (There is also a lower level where talks are held on Tuesday nights and concerts on Thursday evenings.) And of course, there’s the music, with multiple versions of such songs as “I’m Waiting for the Man,” “Venus in Furs,” “Femme Fatale,” “Heroin,” and “Sweet Jane” (from the group’s four main albums, The Velvet Underground & Nico, White Light/White Heat, The Velvet Underground, and Loaded) echoing through the space. “The Velvet Underground Experience” is not an exhaustive study of the band, and it does have a lot of peripheral material in the New York City section, probably because the show was originally presented in Paris, but it is still a treat for VU devotees and those curious about a seminal moment in the history of music.