Crystal prisms and giant steel heads: Preserving Pink Floyd's 'Mortal Remains'

Updated 12th May 2017
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Crystal prisms and giant steel heads: Preserving Pink Floyd's 'Mortal Remains'
Written by Clive Martin, CNN
These days the latest major museum or gallery exhibition is as likely to be about a musician or a fashion house as an old master. The purists might not like it, but Tutankhamen and Titian have had to play second fiddle to a host of retrospectives from 20th century icons, many of them still living.
The likes of the acclaimed "Bjork Digital" at Somerset House in London, Alexander McQueen's posthumous "Savage Beauty" and the newly opened Rei Karawkubo showcase at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have all contributed to redefining the traditional exhibition, with a new sell-out show seeming to open every season.
Exhibitions based around music have been particularly popular, especially in the wake of the Victoria and Albert Museum's (V&A) record-breaking "David Bowie is..." exhibition in 2015, which looked at the scope of the singer's career through the more visual parts of his work, in particular his collaborations with photographers, artists and designers.
A pop star with so much focus on the aesthetic side of his work is the perfect fodder for such an examination. But how many others are there out there?
Inside David Bowie's private art collection
Would a U2 or Adele exhibition have the right level of intrigue and iconography to fill a few rooms in the Met, Tate or MoMA? The answer is, probably not.
For all their cultural worth, some acts are better seen in a stadium.
However, with their new exhibition, "Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains," the V&A have chosen a band with 50 years of creations and incarnations to curate.

Their Mortal Remains

Whether you like their music or not, you can't deny that Pink Floyd's imagery has been some of the most recognizable in music history.
It could possibly be argued that the visual side of their work is even more important than the music, with "Floyd" (as the fans call them) being one of the first bands who used identifiable logos, characters, motifs and conceptual stage shows in their oeuvre.
Think of Pink Floyd and you're just as likely to think of the huge stage show for "The Wall" as the record itself.
The same goes for the sleeves; the riveted steel heads of the "Division Bell" album and the flying pig over Battersea Power Station on the front of "Animals" seem to eclipse the music held within them, and that's not even mentioning "Dark Side Of The Moon."
The V&A have clearly pulled out all the stops to make sure this show has a populist pull.
On entering the exhibition you're given a personal audio system, which uses innovative scanning technology to play different music and interview clips at selected points.
Created by the renowned "entertainment architects" STUFISH (who have crafted designs for Madonna, The Rolling Stones and the Beijing Olympics closing ceremony) the sets installed in the exhibition take you on a phantasmagoric journey through the band's career, recreating some of their most famous concepts.
There is a floating hologram of the "Dark Side Of The Moon" crystal prism and the giant puppet headmaster from the "Another Brick In The Wall" video, for example.
An enormous 360-degree "performance room" playing the band's tour footage with state of the art audio technology is nicely complimented by a copy of the band's rider, which contains a diverse mix of Southern Comfort, Scotch, French Beaujolais (must be bottled in France) and Liquid Nitrogen.
The enormous steel heads from the "Divison Bell" album might take up the most space, but the collection of early synthesizers will be just as exciting to many of the fans coming here.
A member of staff poses in front of a replica of the 'The Division Bell Metal Heads' at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
A member of staff poses in front of a replica of the 'The Division Bell Metal Heads' at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Credit: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
It's undoubtedly an impressive show, one which could even surpass Bowie with it's grandiose appeal, but can this fascination with Rock retrospectives move beyond the usual suspects? And are cultural institutions in danger of dumbing down in an effort to draw crowds?

The perfect post-modern artists

The fact that more people will presumably be queuing for Pink Floyd and the forthcoming Balenciaga exhibition than they will for the Rachel Kneebone sculpture in the same building suggests there is an element of wider populism creeping in, but that doesn't mean these shows should be disregarded as just a way to get the numbers in.
The evidence on display around London suggests that there is plenty more scope and diversity when it comes to doing exhibitions based around music than you might think.
Dvaid Bowie and Pink Floyd might be fully paid up members of the establishment, but the British Library's "Punk 1976-78" collection also created considerable buzz, as did "Bjork Digital," which frequently sold out and had as much innovation and power as a lot of Turner Prize winning shows do.
More recently an exhibition at the Tate featured a number of famous Grime MC's depicted in oil paintings, in the style of the stuffy portraits of landed gentry you might see hanging in a stately home.
A show at the South London Gallery, featuring the work of classic Dancehall artwork by Jamaican graphic designer Wilfred Limonious showed that smaller galleries can portray musical cultures way outside of the mainstream, thus attracting people who wouldn't often go to art shows.
Most importantly, it's clear to see from any of these exhibitions that the ideas and aesthetics within are just as worthy of a major show than any artist in a more traditional mold.
We live in a post-modern age, and musicians are the perfect post-modern artists, playing around with their own reputations and utilizing all sorts of mediums to summon their ideas and channel the times we live in.
If you're going to show Lichtenstein and Warhol then you might as well show David Bowie and Pink Floyd as well.
As the idea of what art is moved forward over the 20th and 21st century, so must the idea of what an art exhibition is. Perhaps these shows are at the forefront of modern curation.
"Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains" is on at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London from 13 May 2017