Pink lights dance over ‘Velvet’ exhibit in NYC
The lyrics of The Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror” play softly in the lobby of The Velvet Underground Experience while a rosy pink light is cast through the windows, a barrier to the rainy fall afternoon that exists just beyond it. Inside lies a haven of history, a showcase of how beloved New York City-based alt-rock band The Velvet Underground came to fruition – a band that represents what it means to question the boundaries of music and break them.
The exhibit, which is held in a three-story building three blocks from Washington Square Park, is relatively unobtrusive from its façade – boasting a banner that depicts all six members of the band and a handwritten sign reading “The Velvet Underground Experience.”
Inside is a world of interactive art and photographic history detailing how truly enigmatic the band was, featuring music listening stations, artist spotlights (including a whole room on the band’s crown jewel, Nico) and a tent that projected video footage of the creation of Andy Warhol’s iconic banana pop art, a symbol that would forever represent The Velvet Underground.
Previously shown in Paris, the exhibit emphasizes the relationship between Lou Reed (primary vocalist) and Warhol, who gave the band their start in New York’s underground scene – one that was unapologetically sexually liberated. These themes follow the Velvet Underground through much of their music, and Warhol’s artistic influence is often synonymous with the band’s image. The yellow banana, featured on their immediately recognizable “peel slowly and see” cover, has been adapted by brands from Forever 21 to Neiman Marcus.
Frankly, the exhibit focuses little on the band’s musical craft. Based around the dynamic of the members, it shows how their art interacted with the world around them – or didn’t. Upon the release of the Velvet’s now-critically acclaimed self-titled album, the band was met with poor sales and little attention from critics and fans alike.
Today, dozens of artists can attribute influence to the band’s innovative sound. The second floor of the exhibit features a sprawling wall filled with hundreds of pictures and flyers of such artists, including LCD Soundsystem, David Byrne, Cat Power and Courtney Barnett.
Quite literally underground, the lowest floor of the exhibit is home to a stage where singer-songwriter Adrian Jean performs on Thursdays, a smaller artist influenced by the band. On Oct. 11, the founding and only surviving member of The Velvet Underground, John Cale, attended the exhibit and Jean’s performance, calling the experience “energetic and frivolous and enjoyable” in an interview with The New York Times. “It was undisciplined art,” he said.
If you have found refuge in Nico’s melodies, solace in the droning viola of “Heroin” or comfort in the juvenility of “After Hours,” The Velvet Underground Experience will remind you why and how a band can elicit such a personal reaction from its audience. Behind the album covers lies a deep history rooted in the East Village, Andy Warhol’s Factory and avant-garde expressionism.
If you’re interested in learning about the rich history of a band that changed music for generations to come, the exhibit is running every day until Dec. 10 and tickets are $25.