In cooperation with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art is organizing the first ever exhibition of rock and roll instruments. Titled “Play It Loud: The Instruments of Rock & Roll”, the exhibition will open on April 8, and will include a range of instruments, from guitars and pianos to drum kits, but also vintage costumes, posters, and concert footage.
Among the musicians whose instruments will be displayed are Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Prince, Joan Jett and Joni Mitchell, but also ‘the old legends’, like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Wanda Jackson. As Max Hollein, Metropolitan’s CEO explains, the exhibition is to convey “the innovation, experimentation, passion, and rebellion at the heart of rock and roll.”
The exhibition is staged thematically and as Smithsonian Magazine reports, “the display moves from musicians’ embrace of burgeoning rock technologies to the creation of “Guitar Gods,” instruments’ roles in shaping artists’ visual identity, and characteristically dramatic exploits such as the destruction of instruments during live performances.” Among those are a fragment of the guitar Jimi Hendrix burned at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and a sculpture constructed out of the guitars Pete Townsend of The Who smashed during the group’s concerts.
As Billboard reports, Jimmy Page, Don Felder of The Eagles, along with Steve Miller and Tina Weymouth of The Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club christened the exhibition at its preview a week ahead of its opening.
Some, like the singer Neko Case have called out Met Art for the imbalance in the representation of the instruments used by male and female artists. Curators Ayson Kerr Dobney and Craig J. Inciardi responded that, “in the 1950s and 1960s, and even beyond, the women in rock and roll bands, were primarily limited to vocals, the reason they were underrepresented in these pages.”
As for Billboard, it commented that the exhibition is “an accessible embarrassment of riches for even the most casual fan,” and that “it demonstrates a need for treating rock n’ roll as the high art it is.” Easy to agree on that one.