Encapsulating 50 years of multi-sensory creative work in a room is a daunting task. If the creative source is called Pink Floyd, the task is just impossible. It’s like building The Wall around their genius and boundless work (pun intended).
“They could have joined the audience at one of their own gigs without being recognised.” John Peel
The quote, at the exhibition’s entrance, sets the scene thoroughly. As famous and influential as Pink Floyd are, their work and their output is what shines, it’s the focal point, and the collection on display at the V&A has been tastefully curated to reflect this ethos.
The Starting Point
Pink Floyd’s largest legacy is music. Music travels through your ears so the first thing you get at the entrance is a pair of headphones to enhance the visual feast. The kit is location-aware and it seamlessly syncs the music and the audio commentary while you stop and stare at the different items. The exhibition is designed as a linear journey in chronological order. First stop, London and psychedelia.
In the early days, the band went through different names and formations but two things remained constant. Syd Barret and LSD. These two elements were undoubtedly present in Pink Floyd’s early work and there is no shortage of references throughout the V&A’s walls to reflect this. Some signifiers include the psychedelic black cab, the artwork from the albums, concert posters and the music clues through the headphones… an LSD journey sans the LSD.
Syd Barret left the band in 1968 due to deteriorating mental health. Roger Waters became the leader and David Gilmore is now the lead guitarist. In the years to follow, Pink Floyd released some of their most interesting work including albums such as A Saucerful of Secrets, Ummagumma, Atom Heart Mother and Meddle. They also released the experimental film Live at Pompeii. A live concert without a live audience. Ironic, and in my opinion, the best concert film ever made. Period.
There are a couple of rooms dedicated to the so-called ‘transition’ years. Items on display include equipment from the Pompeii experiment, a 3D version of Atom Heart Mother’s iconic album art and a tastefully curated audio journey for your ears to enhance the experience.
The Mainstream Years
Between 1973 and 1978 Pink Floyd released their most famous albums. Top of the charts The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish you Were Here, Animals and The Wall. As expected, this era is widely represented throughout the exhibition. Pink Floyd’s legacy from these four albums is immense and it doesn’t stop with the music & lyrics. It includes sound innovation, iconic album covers, new technologies deployed at live concerts and Alan Parker’s film, The Wall. Songs’ lyrics also became heavily charged with political and anti-establishment messages. A theme that Roger Waters, in particular, has been carrying until the present day. The exhibition includes the iconic flying Pig, a replica of Battersea’s power station, many iterations of different album’s art and of course, plenty of original items from the film The Wall.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
After Roger Waters’ departure in the 1980s, the band starts a less fruitful journey in terms of new material. The best work ahead comes in the form of world tours and two live albums, Delicate Sound of Thunder and Pulse. While most of the songs included are from the 70s, they reach new heights with masterful live performances and superior sound engineering. A treat for fans and audiophiles.
Even if I do, the exhibition doesn’t forget to include references from the studio albums A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell. At this stage, the end of the journey is in the horizon but there is, however, one final moment of greatness at the very end, a concert stage simulation where you can see and hear, without headphones, the briefly reunited Pink Floyd’s performance of Comfortably Numb at Live8 in 2005.
Wish you were there. It’s totally worth it.
The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains is at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, from 13 May to 1 October
Disclaimer: Pink Floyd is Juan’s all time favourite band. All of the above is totally biased.