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Some kinda love: A super-cool Velvets deep dive

“Velvet Underground Experience” co-curators Christian Fevret and Carole Mirabello illuminated by a short film about Nico, produced by Mirabello, that was projected on a wall at the show. Photos by Bob Krasner

BY PUMA PERL | There aren’t many people around who saw the original Velvet Underground lineup. I did, once. I was 16, and had no idea where I was going or why. (Decades later, I figured out that it was the “Exploding Plastic Inevitable” show at the Balloon Farm, formerly the Dom.)

Some older guys had invited me to go to “a place” on St Mark’s —it was 1967, so I went. I remember feeling too entranced to be self-conscious. Riding the subway and the B5 bus back to deepest Brooklyn, I envisioned shiny boots of leather, and resolved to learn to apply eyeliner the way Lou did.

The looks, sounds and vibe of this band were like nothing I’d ever encountered, or even imagined. Sometimes you can pinpoint the moment music and its message change your life. My moment was with the Velvet Underground, and it’s remained my soundtrack, resonating in my poems, stories and photographs. If there is such a thing as VU Tinnitus, I might have it — the clamorous opening of “Venus in Furs” lives in my head. I can close my eyes and recall their shadows onstage.

Naturally, I’d been looking forward to “The Velvet Underground Experience,” which opened Oct. 10 at 718 Broadway. Like the banana on the cover of “The Velvet Underground & Nico,” you peel slowly and see. Six sections track the band from preformation to dissolution. Christian Fevret, the founder of French music magazine Les Inrockuptibles, and Carole Mirabello, an independent film producer, co-curated the exhibit, which originated in Paris, 2016. Matali Crasset is the exhibition designer.

The Velvet Underground’s first album, signed by all members of the band and Andy Warhol.

Fevret recalled that his 25-year fascination with the band began when he attended the 1993 European tour where the Velvets reunited to perform “Heroin.”

“It was like an old band sounding new, a brand-new record coming from the past,” he said of what struck him most deeply about the show.

His methodology was “to dive into the period.”

At the current Noho show’s entrance is Allen Ginsberg’s poem “America.” It accompanies Jonathan Caouette’s multimedia video and sound installation, “America/America,” which was inspired by Ginsberg’s poem. That’s followed by a row of Fred McDarrah photographs, capturing images of street life, protests, jazz musicians and familiar faces and locations from the era. We then proceed through two floors of multimedia experience tracing the band’s career and its influences. The films include six produced exclusively for the exhibit.

Fully utilizing the 12,000-square-foot space, the exhibit retraces the New York band’s trip from the streets to the worlds of film, painting and literature. More than 1,000 objects are on display, including posters, albums, rare photographs and biographical material created for the show.

A viewing lounge featuring archival films by Barbara Rubin, Gerard Malanga, Allan Rothschild, Danny Williams and Ronald Nameth.

The lives of people with whom the band connected are not simply footnoted but explored, including Jonas Mekas, Edie Sedgwick, Barbara Rubin, Andy Warhol and many more. Music surrounds us, and headphones are available to listen to interviews.

Additionally, there is a studio created by Bandsintown where weekly events take place, including a Thursday night residency by emerging singer/songwriter Adrian Jean.

Through interactive content, the exhibit offers an immersive experience reflecting the symmetry of the band, its art and a city on the edge of explosion.

Following a preopening press tour, I returned for a “live” experience, including an interview with original Velvets member John Cale. It was conducted by Jim Kerr, of Q104.3 radio, who noted that the crowd was “so cool” that it felt like 1968 again. Cale wryly responded that in 1968 the audiences usually hated them, and recounted Warhol’s influence in moving them from venues like the Village’s Café Bizarre into art galleries and museums.

Many attendees were young, and seeing them lying down on silver mats below a beam housed in the center of the main floor, gazing at rare footage, filled me with crazy hope that art will, ultimately, prevail. It’s impossible to reproduce the avant-garde sense of danger and decay in today’s New York City; we are living in a very different type of macro-darkness now.

Curator Christian Fevret talking about Adam Ritchie’s photos of the Velvet Underground playing at the Cafe Bizarre, where Andy Warhol first heard the band.

Charles and Nicole Struensee are a married couple, who Charles describes as “an old rock-and-roll married couple,” albeit a bit too young to have caught the Velvet Underground live. They visited the exhibit the first week it opened. Their friend, cartoonist John Holmstrom, the founding editor of PUNK magazine, happened to also attend that afternoon. Holmstrom called the show “amazing when describing how the Velvet Underground came together,” particularly the videos and clips of the band, and the descriptions of band members’ childhoods and teen years, as well as Nico’s pre-New York City film and modeling career.

“But I have to admit that I was disappointed that the show ignores the band after they break with Warhol,” he added. “I always thought their best music was produced after the break.” Holmstrom opined that exhibits should have included Max’s Kansas City and Mickey Ruskin and the solo projects and collaborations that took place in later years. Yet, he does consider it, as he put it, an “interesting and overdue homage to the most important band in the history of New York City.”

John Cale.

Charles Struensee felt he got what the curators were trying to do.

“I sensed that the narrow focus was intended to examine the initial creative spark that allowed the Velvets to seamlessly integrate their raw, gritty music into the arts scene,” he said.

Nicole Struensee said, “The exhibit was about the Velvet Underground, not later collaborations. It captured the essence of the band. I loved it.”

I loved it, too. Those who did not evolve with the Velvet Underground, or walk the same dark streets, get an opportunity to inhale the flavor of the band and the late ’60s New York City scene that they still define. To me, nothing is cooler than the Velvet Underground. Like Lou wrote, and Nico sang, “I’ll be your mirror…reflect what you are in case you don’t know… .”

“Velvet Underground Experience,” 718 Broadway at Washington Place, through Dec. 30. For tickets and more information, visit .

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