Tim Roxborogh gathers no moss, seeing four inspiring exhibitions in two days.
"What does Ronnie Wood even do?" I was so aghast when a mate of mine — an alleged fellow Rolling Stones fan — asked me this that I wanted to throw a bucket of water on him.
"Ronnie's a legend!" was my response, before reminding Semi-Ignorant Music Friend #1 that pre joining the Stones in 1975, Ronnie had also been in the Jeff Beck Group in the 60s as well as in the Faces in the 70s alongside Rod Stewart. It's Ronnie playing everything from electric guitar to 12-string to bass on his best mate Rod's solo career-launching Maggie May back in 1971. For Ronnie it's 50 years of rock 'n' roll, 43 of which he's been in the self-proclaimed "greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world". That and all his best-selling artwork, so yeah, in the words of Ron Burgundy, Ronnie Wood is kind of a big deal.
"But what does he actually do in the Stones? It's Keith who's the guitarist." Well, the only way to properly fight this outrageous anti-Ronnie Wood nonsense was to fly to Sydney for what is quite possibly the single most enthralling travelling exhibition I've seen in my life. I was minus Semi-Ignorant Music Friend #1, but nevertheless, I returned with inarguable evidence.
A bit of scene-setting first. Truth be told, the overriding point of my mission was not to specifically defend the honour of the second guitarist in the Rolling Stones, but to see no less than four different exhibitions. With Sydney something of an "Exhibition City" these days, not to mention a metropolis whose CBD and fringes have been undergoing a massive makeover in recent years, I didn't need much arm-twisting to go.
The first two exhibitions sounded interesting enough in and of themselves. Masters Of Modern Art From The Hermitage was at the Art Gallery of New South Wales — I'm no art historian but the fact this collection had been shipped from a place no less exotic than St Petersburg got me intrigued; even more once I realised I'd be seeing works from the likes of Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Cezanne and Gauguin.
When I was inside the gallery, the effect of standing before a painting with the name Monet next to it was kind of like being at a concert by a legendary band. You can't quite believe what's right there in front of you and whether you're pausing for several minutes at each picture as some people were, or taking it in somewhat more briskly as I was, it was still sensational.
Besides, I had another three exhibitions to get to. Opting for feet instead of Ubers or buses, I walked along one of the world's most envied waterfronts to the Museum Of Contemporary Art on George St. This would be for David Goldblatt Photographs: 1948-2018 — a simultaneously sobering and inspiring retrospective by one of South Africa's pre-eminent photographers. Primarily worked in black and white, Goldblatt's images of apartheid-era South Africa and its immediate aftermath justifiably found international acclaim.
So that was day one of exhibition-ing done, a mighty fine effort but still the mere warm-up act for day two. Day two and my third exhibition of the trip was called Star Wars Identities and it's fair to say I was extremely excited. A Star Wars fan since deciding as a child to investigate the movies behind some of my favourite Lego sets (I realise that's the incorrect order of events btw), accept that if you have a Star Wars nut in your house, it's a non-negotiable that you make it to the Powerhouse Museum (in the CBD fringe suburb of Ultimo) before the exhibition closes in June.
Star Wars Identities is really a two-pronged affair starting with the kids getting to create their own Star Wars avatar based on with which personality traits of famous George Lucas characters they most align. I turned out as some sort of ewok hybrid which I've chosen to take as a compliment. Of more interest to the adults is the memorabilia to the tune of more than 200 original costumes, models, props, puppets and pieces of art.
Swapping out Monet, Matisse, Cezanne and Picasso for a real Yoda puppet, a genuine Darth Vader costume, the frozen in carbonite Han Solo model from The Empire Strikes Back and the original miniature of the Imperial Star Destroyer, I was in Star Wars geek heaven.
My ultimate pop culture nirvana of the trip would come however, in the afternoon of day two. A short walk from the Powerhouse Museum at the International Convention Centre, this was Exhibitionism: The Rolling Stones Exhibit. Touted as the Stones' first major exhibition, this has everything from a to-scale replica of the first flat the lads shared in Edith Grove back in the early 60s, a recreation of a recording studio using Stones' instruments, a mock backstage for a stadium gig and 3D goggles for the most realistic concert experience short of the real thing.
Oh, and the one thing that this blew my mind: the chance to remix eight classic songs. As in, I had 1978s No.1 smash Miss You on the virtual mixing disk in front of me with faders for Mick Jagger's lead vocals, the background vocals, Charlie Watts' drums, Bill Wyman's bass, Keith Richards' guitar and yes, Ronnie Wood's guitar. I was giddy; this was too much fun.
Masters Of Modern Art From The Hermitage — Art Gallery of NSW, until March 3.
David Goldblatt Photographs: 1948-2018 — Museum Of Contemporary Art Australia, until March 3.
Star Wars Identities — Powerhouse Museum, until June 10.
Exhibitionism: The Rolling Stones Exhibit — International Convention Centre, until February 3.