The Victoria & Albert Museum’s new exhibition is a psychedelic time capsule of a show devoted to the band Pink Floyd, complete with floating pigs, surreal animations and trippy projections.
But it’s not the visuals, or the group’s experimental and sometimes indulgent music, that marks this out as an ode to a vanished time. It’s the economics.
Pink Floyd was given limitless studio time to create sprawling albums that sold in the tens of millions. The band staged multimedia shows so huge and technically ambitious that the set for one tour took eight days to assemble.
Famous for album covers
Aubrey “Po” Powell, a founder of the Hipgnosis design team behind Pink Floyd’s most famous album covers, said the exhibition celebrates “a 25-year golden period when album sales were through the roof and the industry was awash with money to allow renegades to be able to expand.”
“The adage that Pink Floyd had was, the art comes first, the money comes later,” Powell said Tuesday at a preview for the exhibition , which opens Saturday, May 15 and runs to Oct. 1. “It was, ‘Whatever it costs do it, because that’s what we believe in.’
“I don’t know anybody these days who would put the art first and the money later, because the money isn’t there.”
The show, given the elegiac title “Their Mortal Remains,” is a return to music for the V&A after its hit 2013 exhibition devoted to David Bowie, which went on to tour the world.
Started at UFO nightclub
It traces Pink Floyd from its origins in the 1960s London psychedelic scene — where it was house band for the swinging UFO nightclub — through landmark albums like “The Dark Side of the Moon” and “The Wall” to the familiar rock `n’ roll story of splits and reconciliations.
On display are scores of instruments, letters, items of clothing and other artifacts, as well as some impressively large installations, including a replica of London’s Battersea Power Station. The building appeared — accompanied by a flying pig — on the cover of the 1977 album “Animals.” The pig is on display too, of course.
There’s a tinge of nostalgia to the show, which comes 50 years after the release of Pink Floyd’s first album, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” — recorded at Abbey Road Studios while The Beatles created “Sgt. Pepper” in the next room.
“No band today would have the freedom that Pink Floyd arranged to have,” said the V&A’s Victoria Broackes, who co-curated the exhibition. “And that is where music has — no matter how good the music — sort of come unstuck from society.”
Band embraced computers
Like the Bowie show, the exhibition charts the outward ripples of the band’s influence through the arts and technology. It celebrates the technical and artistic collaborators who helped Pink Floyd pioneer psychedelic slide shows, embrace computers and re-imagine the visual side of live performance.
Several band members trained as architects, and the group had a fondness for building and dismantling large structures, like the giant barrier of “The Wall,” which was destroyed every night of the band’s 1980-81 tour.
The V&A is Britain’s leading museum of art and design, and Broackes said that for a musical act to merit an exhibition, “it has to have a huge cultural context, and also a big visual component.”
“And that is what we have with Pink Floyd going back to their earliest days,” she said — especially “the use of staging, which then goes on to drive the industry forward in the 80s and 90s.”
“They’ve also worked with an amazing range of very interesting people. We’re all about the creative industries here, and encouraging people into those industries. So whether you’re a designer or an architect or an engineer or a filmmaker there is work here to see and enjoy.”
Those coming for the music will not be disappointed, either. It is sprinkled throughout the show, and the final room features wraparound footage of the band performing at the 2005 Live 8 concert in London’s Hyde Park.
“There’s a recognition that people feel very emotional about Pink Floyd and they want to listen to great music and have an emotional experience,” Broackes said.