Earlier this month, a new exhibition dedicated to The Velvet Underground opened in the city that made them – New York. Step into the space in Greenwich Village and you’ll be transported back into the ’60s, before Starbucks lined the streets and when the Chelsea Hotel was still a squalid haven for artists instead of being passed from developer to developer with hopes of commercialising its history.
The Velvet Underground Experience will teach you all you need to know about the band and the world around them, through stunning photos, films, and more. Like the recent David Bowie exhibit, David Bowie Is, there’s potential for it to move around – it actually first opened in Paris two years ago. For the meantime, though, it’s on in NYC until December 30. You can find more information about the exhibition at the official website but, first, check out five reasons why you don’t want to miss visiting it.
You can experience the confusion and excitement of seeing the band for the first time
Dotted around the exhibition are screens showing various films about the band. One animated package is titled The Velvet Underground Played At My High School and documents the band’s first gig at a school in Summit, New Jersey. Narrated by Anthony Jannelli, who was there that night, it captures the thrilling bewilderment of seeing a group who sounded unlike anything else at the time.
You can watch bands perform there
It might be impossible to get The Velvet Underground themselves to perform at the exhibition but you can still witness some live music there. Down in the BandsInTown basement, New York bands will perform, some covering The Velvets, others just taking inspiration from them. Last week (October 25), Bushwick’s The Britanys played an improvised set complete with a 21st-century take on Nico – aka model Amanda Mussachia sat onstage, scrolling on her phone as the band played.
It contextualises the world around The Velvet Underground
The exhibition doesn’t just focus on the history of Lou Reed’s gang. Before you get to any Velvets material, you can watch a film set to a reading on Allen Ginsberg’s 1956 poem America before examining photos of New York in the early ’60s, with captions that set the scene in the city that birthed the great band. Later, there are sections that take a closer look at associates of the group, like It girl Edie Sedgwick, Warhol Superstar Candy Darling, and more, so you get a full look at the whole scene.
There’s a room decked out like The Factory
Andy Warhol was, of course, The Velvet Underground’s manager for a period and so his presence looms throughout the exhibition. There’s even a room off the main space made to look like his infamous Factory, two iterations of which were located a few blocks away in Union Square. In there, you’ll find a short film about Nico, info about the art icon, and more.
It actively encourages you to lie down and take everything in
Sure, technically you can lie down at any exhibition you go to but, here, organisers actually want you to do that. There’s a den area in the middle of the room with angled mats for that purpose. Get comfy on them and look up at the screens showing short films, slideshows of photos from The Factory, and more as the Velvets’ music envelopes you.