While it’s not technically incorrect to call Pink Floyd a rock band, the term feels somehow unequal to the descriptive task at hand. One doesn’t so much listen to albums like The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall as experience them, and this went even more so for their elaborate, increasingly colossal live performances. A retrospective of Pink Floyd’s history, which stretched back to 1965, must do justice to Pink Floyd’s transcendent ambition: this was the goal of Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains, an exhibition that first opened at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2017 and is now preparing to make its United States debut at Los Angeles’ Vogue Multicultural Museum this summer.
“You arrive into Their Mortal Remains via a life-size replica of the band’s Bedford van, their black-and-white touring vehicle in the mid-Sixties,” Rolling Stone‘s Emily Zemler writes of the V&A show. “The story is told by letters, drawings, posters, video footage, newspaper clippings, music instruments, ticket stubs and odd objects, some of them replicas.”
The items on display come not just from the professional life of the band but the personal lives of it members as well: “Syd Barrett’s red-orange bicycle,” for instance, or “the actual cane used on Waters during his early years” to deliver punishment for misbehavior at school.
Also on display are no few notable musical instruments, including a kit painted for drummer Nick Mason with ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa. “Once it’s behind glass, it just looks a million dollars,” Mason says in one of Their Mortal Remains’ trailers, appearing in his capacity as a consultant to the project. It main curator, graphic designer Aubrey “Po” Powell, co-created the cover art for The Dark Side of the Moon, and brings to bear a thorough knowledge of Pink Floyd’s music, their history, and their sensibility. “It’s way out of scale to anything that you’ve ever seen before,” he says of the exhibition’s design, “and that sort of journey is very reminiscent of psychedelia, of being on psychedelic drugs.”
In its way, the alteration of consciousness is as essential to the Pink Floyd phenomenon as the incorporation of technology (subject of a recent Mason-hosted BBC podcast series) and the expansion of rock music’s sonic territory. On a deeper level, there’s also what V&A director Tristram Hunt calls “an English pastoral idiom,” which will certainly make for an intriguing juxtaposition when Their Mortal Remains completes its installation in the thick of Hollywood Boulevard. There it will run from August 3rd to November 28th, though tickets are already on sale at the Vogue Multicultural Museum’s web site. Though in Los Angeles the consciousness-altering substances that have traditionally accompanied their music are now more legal than ever, be warned that what Salvador Dalí said of himself also holds true for Pink Floyd: they are drugs.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.