Flashing images, experimental film and tunes at the new Velvet Underground Experience transport you to the world of 1960s counterculture, where you’ll come face-to-face with the New York City band’s most important and intimate moments.
For the next three months, more than 350 photos, some of them never seen before, 1,000 objects and six films produced especially for the experience explore The Velvet Underground’s influences, history and legacy at an exhibition at 718 Broadway.
"They were around for only three years, a very short time, but it was very intense," co-curator Carole Mirabello said.
Poet and writer Allen Ginsberg’s voice leads visitors in as he reads "America" while two screens representing the mainstream and underground cultures set up the context: Hollywood film scenes set against experimental art; polished advertisements vs. garage rock n’ roll.
Visitors are then taken through a visual timeline of both events in America and in the lives of the band members, Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Maureen Tucker and Nico, and released into a space that encourages connecting with the music (each visitor gets a pair of headphones) and experiencing the "spirit" of the band through different lenses, according to the exhibit’s designer, Matali Crasset.
"Totems" placed throughout the two-level experience are dedicated to those in the band and those who fraternized with them, like Edie Sedgewick, Andy Warhol and Nico, the German model turned singer.
Rooms that shoot off from the center contain short films, such as one on Nico and her talents, another about Reed and Cale’s childhoods and other more experimental films, including an explicit piece by Barbara Rubin — a filmmaker who was in the band’s circle.
Another film is projected onto the ceiling of a constructed theater, inspired by the playfulness of Andy Warhol’s Factory studio. Visitors are meant to lay on their backs and look up to view the film, which explains how Warhol got his iconic banana onto "The Velvet Underground & Nico" album cover.
Never-before-seen black and white photos from the band’s trip to Ann Arbor in a van, candids from Cale and Betsey Johnson’s wedding and a picture of Reed, Cale and Warhol at the Ocean Club in 1976 offer new perspectives of the group.
The Velvet Underground’s impact on culture covers an entire wall and a half, which is fun to marvel at.
The space takes a cue from the band and its members, which were "living in an informal way," Crasset told amNewYork, explaining they had to find a way to translate that into an exhibit.
"The spirit of the band was given by the people in it," she said. "We wanted to give the experience of it, not only showing it but feeling it."
Giving the counterculture a spotlight was important to Crasset and the curators Mirabello and Christian Fevret because "it can provide different input," she said. "It’s important that the younger generation understands that."
The exhibit’s "Studio" will be hosting talks and concerts throughout.
The space is open Tuesday through Sunday for the next three months from noon to 7 p.m. on weekdays and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. For tickets, visit velvetunderground-experience.com.