The Velvet Underground Experience
Curator Christian Fevret on the new art and music exhibition that pays tribute to the Velvet Underground in frontman Lou Reed’s native New York.
Christian Fevret is an independent curator based in Paris. He is the founder and former Editor in Chief of the magazine Les Inrockuptibles, which was first published in 1986. The magazine focuses on movies, literature, and rock ’n’ roll, so it’s no surprise that its founder also happens to be an expert on the Velvet Underground. With his knowledge of the band, along with co-curator Carole Mirabello and designer Matali Crasset, The Velvet Underground Experience was born, an exhibition that started in Paris and is now in New York at a pop-up venue on Broadway. We met on the second floor of the exhibition, a soundtrack from the Velvet Underground playing in the background, and sat, surrounded by vintage records.
Katy Diamond Hamer: What has it been like for you to bring this exhibition about the Velvet Underground to New York City?
Christian Fevret: Bringing it to New York is incredibly important to us as everything began here. I think for young New Yorkers, I don’t know if it will be a discovery, but it will show what happened and how much [the band’s] influence reached outside America. A lot of bands from Japan, England, and Brazil were formed because of the Velvets. It doesn’t mean they have the same sound but in terms of freedom of spirit, speech, and creation the Velvets were pioneers. Seeing this in New York now is quite fantastic for us.
KDH: Is the layout the same as it was in Paris?
CF: The exhibition was first shown at the Philharmonie de Paris and we had to adapt it to bring it to New York. In Paris, all of the exhibition was on the same level and here we have three levels. So we had to reinvent part of the exhibition but used the same scenographer, Matali Crasset. We shipped quite a lot of the custom display furniture and adapted it to this fantastic, New York space. It has an underground and sub-basement. It feels very New York to me and when we are downstairs we can often hear the subway below. Also, I think it works well to not recreate old New York but have a contemporary point of view on the story we are telling.
KDH: How did you get involved in this particular project? Did you originally approach it as a fan?
CF: I was the editor of Les Inrockuptibles for 25 years and during that time, I had multiple occasions to meet the Velvet members, Lou Reed, of course, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Moe Tucker. I did interviews with the four of them and little by little I was also involved with other people from that scene, who were close to the band and are still close to John and Moe, for example, Sterling’s widow Martha, Jonas Mekas and many of the photographers. We first had the idea for an exhibition about five or six years ago, it was before the Bowie exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. It took us some time to have it produced because it’s a lot of work, including three years for Paris and two more in order to bring it to New York. The Velvets were not only an important influential band but [their music] resonates today. The story behind the band, their music, friends—Andy Warhol and Nico, for example—is an important story to tell and that is what we are trying to do with the exhibition.
KDH: How has the exhibition been received so far in New York?
CF: The reception is way beyond our expectations. It was very well received in Paris but we can feel here that there is really an excitement and surprise when people visit the exhibition. I’m not sure that before entering, they imagine how interactive it is—the way we display the pictures, movies, etc. We produced six movies for this exhibition and are showing them in unusual ways. People visiting the exhibition can feel not only the work that we did but something special in the atmosphere. From what I’ve gathered, people leaving the exhibition are very happy about it.
KDH: You had to aggregate quite a lot of material for the exhibition. What would you say was the most difficult to get?
CF: Well, initially one of the most difficult things, that turned out well in the end, was the involvement of Lou Reed’s sister, Merrill Reed Weiner. It was difficult for her because as a family member she loved and always loves her brother and she wanted to set up things about their childhood and this famous story of electroshock therapy that Lou Reed went through. In the end, I persuaded her to read and us to record a text that she wrote about this. For the first time, the family accepted that pictures of Lou Reed as a child could be shown. Merrill agreed to give us a few very interesting photos of Lou in his young years, which is very special.
KDH: The exhibition is on view in New York until December 30, will it continue to travel?
CF: We are in discussions with three cities at the moment. The plan is to do five additional cities in North America in the next five years, so yes, my hope is that the exhibition will reach the West Coast, maybe Chicago, and also Canada.
WORDS Katy Diamond Hamer
PHOTOGRAPHY Courtesy of The Velvet Underground Experience