Tickled Pink? What's The V&A's Pink Floyd Exhibition Like?
With Bowie and the Stones checked off the list, Pink Floyd are the logical next step in the trend for reliving the careers of musical leviathans at big London institutions. Of course, there's nothing logical about Pink Floyd; for decades, the band were 15 steps ahead of everyone else — and although Their Mortal Remains is a chronological affair, it pops with psychedelic surprises along the way.
One of the show's USPs is its audio setup, your headphones tuning into videos as you walk up to them — it's a nifty idea, and one that largely works (once or twice glitches had us listening to the audio for the display behind us). Watching snippets from their Live at Pompeii 'show' (it had no audience; we can't work out if that's ingenious or just terribly pretentious) and hearing how they teased sounds out of synths for Dark Side of the Moon enriches the experience. It also eradicates that age-old problem of audio tracks in the same room competing to be heard.
Pink Floyd are almost as much about the visuals as they are about the music; while some musos will stand drooling over David Gilmour's famous 'Black Strat' for 15 minutes, others will be drawn to the story of how the band developed their aesthetic through live shows, album covers and animation. As Pink Floyd's fame and bank balance swelled, so did their theatricality. From projecting light shows with the help of stretched condoms in the late 1960s, they went on to enrol Storm Thorgerson to create the Animals album cover featuring *that* inflatable pig straining from its tethers over Battersea Power Station — and producing the ludicrously-ambitious tour for The Wall.
This particular section of the exhibition is a treat for the senses; original inflatables from The Wall loom over a scaled down Battersea Power Station, and you can certainly see where your £20-odd quid is going. Still, the exhibition never fails to lose its personal touch, and diaries and sketches from the band give their grand schemes gravitas.
Perhaps the real test for a show like this is whether or not those new to Pink Floyd come out satisfied. As fans of the band's early incarnation, memorabilia such as Syd Barrett's whimsical letters to his girlfriend send a shiver down the spine. At the same time, it's fascinating to learn more about how sounds and concepts were created for later albums. A friend who's not au fait with Floyd at all said he'd liked to have seen more emphasis on what they did before anyone else, how they changed the world, and influenced other bands.
We can see how that might be case, but then again, Their Mortal Remains is once huge chunk of inspiration to get anyone digging into Pink Floyd's back catalogue.
Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, from 13 May. Tickets £20-£24.
Last Updated 16 May 2017