Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Backstage Pass at the Reading Public Museum of Art

As a regular reader of the Art Daily eNewsletter I routinely see shows and events I'd welcome the opportunity to experience, and this past ten days I had opportunity to experience two of them, the first being the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Tampa Museum of Art and the latter being Backstage Pass in Reading. Backstage Pass displays the imagery of photographer Baron Wolman and the process by which his photos were selected to create the rock icons that defined the music of our generation.

When Dr. Hook sang "On the Cover of the Rolling Stone" he wasn't kidding about the power it generated. The press notes stated:

Contextualized in 35 framed photographs, contact sheets, and original covers, Backstage Pass presents an intimate view during a crucial period of cultural transformation in American history. Feeding the heightened political and cultural climate of the time, featured artists Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Frank Zappa came to represent generational ideas through music, words, and visual imagery.

Wolman's approach was exemplified in an image featuring Bill Graham at Woodstock, seated behind the stage leaning against a speaker while Santana could be seen beyond in the background. His assignment was to capture rock life as it happened, not the staged publicity still so common in show biz.

Compared to the Rockwell exhibition or a comprehensive Matisse exhibit currently making rounds, it's relatively minor, but very worthwhile if you're in the neighborhood. We drove over from Allentown and Backstage Pass served as a nice lure to draw newcomers into a very comfortable and rewarding museum.

Backstage Pass had been situated on the first floor in the central hall of the two story museum which includes sections featuring natural history, North American Indian and Latin American halls, as well as Ancient Civilizations, Arms and Armor of Medieval Times, and Pennsylvania Dutch culture.

Nearly half the second floor was devoted to a special exhibit featuring the story of the trans-Atlantic slave trade titled Spirit of the Passage. This exhibit will be on display through May 3. The other half of the second floor features European and American Art as well as two halls of Modern & Contemporary Art.

As for Backstage Pass, I had forgotten how much smaller the magazine was originally. Ralph Gleason and Jann Wenner created the publication on a shoestring and built it into a powerhouse. I can't recall whether the initial content included journalism like the current scandal making news today but I do know that although there was competition in that category (zines covering the music scene) Rolling Stone became the 900-pound gorilla and the measure by which all others would be measured.

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