'The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains' in Dortmund shows band's artistic evolution

Highlights of the Pink Floyd exhibition in Dortmund

Experimental and influential

They were way more than just a band: Pink Floyd (Roger Waters, here in the back, and from left to right, Nick Mason, David Gilmour, Richard Wright) not only revolutionized rock with their progressive psychedelic music. They also set many other artistic milestones with their unusual stage concepts and artwork for their albums, as well as their innovative recording techniques in the studio.

Highlights of the Pink Floyd exhibition in Dortmund

Iconic images

Over the last 50 years, the versatile band has produced many iconic visuals. London's Victoria & Albert Museum featured some 350 photos, album covers and artifacts in its retrospective, such as these heads, which served as artwork for the concept album The Division Bell (1994). They were conceived by the graphic designer Storm Thorgerson, who also worked on another well-known cover...

Highlights of the Pink Floyd exhibition in Dortmund

Masterpiece: The Dark Side of the Moon

This is one of the most famous album covers in rock history. The exhibition dedicates a whole room to it. Keyboardist Richard Wright asked designers Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell to come up with a "simple and bold" design. Powell remembered finding this image of a glass prism dispersing light into color in a chemistry book. They immediately felt it was right.

Highlights of the Pink Floyd exhibition in Dortmund

And pigs can fly

Bassist Roger Waters came up with the idea of the flying pig over Battersea Power Station. The huge helium-inflated porcine balloon broke free and flights over London had to be canceled, adding to the band's trove of legendary antics. The photo served as the cover of Animals (1977). "The sky had colors in the style of William Turner's paintings, fitting with the music," said Aubrey Powell.

Highlights of the Pink Floyd exhibition in Dortmund

We don't need no education...

As the creative director of the exhibition, Powell dug out real treasures: This cane was used by their teacher to beat Waters, Thorgerson and founding member Syd Barrett when they were in school together in Cambridge. It inspired the prop held by the huge teacher puppet that was part of the "The Wall" concerts. Waters was happy to see it in the exhibition.

Highlights of the Pink Floyd exhibition in Dortmund

The Wall (1980/1981)

The exhibition also includes a reproduction of the huge wall that was gradually built in front of the band during the shows of "The Wall Tour." It symbolized the feeling of alienation between Roger Waters, the band and the audience. Because of the enormous costs of the stage theatrics, the tour only comprised 31 shows in four locations. German fans were lucky: Dortmund was one of them.

Highlights of the Pink Floyd exhibition in Dortmund

From here to immortality

"Their Mortal Remains" is the name of the exhibition, yet the band itself appears to be immortal: The Dark Side of the Moon is still a top seller worldwide. Pink Floyd's psychedelic universe can be explored at the Dortmunder U until February 10, 2019.

Pink Floyd formed during a time of upheaval in the 1960s. Now they're the focus of an exhibition at the Dortmunder U. DW found out how their album covers were made and what they have to do with a French chemistry book.

"The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains" is set to open this weekend at the Dortmunder U center for arts, after a run in London in Rome. Back in 2017 when the exhibition opened at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, DW spoke with Victoria Broackes, senior curator, and Aubrey "Po" Powell, creative director for Pink Floyd. Together with his partner, the late Storm Thorgerson, Powell founded the creative team Hipgnosis in 1968, designing many of Pink Floyd's legendary album covers.

DW: What can visitors expect to see at the Pink Floyd exhibition?

Broackes: It's a journey across some 50 years, more or less. The beginning to the end is quite a lot of years to cover. We start in psychedelic London in the swinging '60s and the impact that the music from London and the UK was having on the rest of the world. And Pink Floyd really presented this sort of very arty edge of it. 

The original members of Pink Floyd: Roger Waters, Syd Barrett, Richard Wright and Nick Mason

Aubrey, you started working with Pink Floyd in their early days. What was going on back then?

Powell: A Saucerful of Secrets from 1968 was the first album cover Storm Thorgerson, my partner at Hipgnosis, and I devised for them. Completely given carte blanche, they said to come up with an idea. We were, I suppose, quite intellectual and well-read and we were interested in everything, from reading Jack Kerouac through to, you know, Marvel comics.

And of course you are looking at 1968 and this was a time when there was revolution in the streets. Paris was in flames, in London we were occupying the London School of Economics, and the Royal Collage of Arts would be taken over by the students.

And you're looking at the anti-Vietnam riots going on in America and the advent of the Black Panthers. The world was in chaos and in the midst of this, Pink Floyd were writing and making very different sounds and music and recording very English, pastoral material and taking their lyrics from everything from the I Ching to things like Alice in Wonderland.

Roger Waters: Still fierce at 75

The creation of Pink Floyd

Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Syd Barrett and Rick Wright founded Sigma 6 in 1965; the band later became Pink Floyd. In 1968, David Gilmour replaced Barrett, who had drug and mental health issues. From then on, Waters and Gilmour became the band's creative minds, with Waters focusing on lyrics and Gilmour on the music. They made Pink Floyd one of the most important psychedelic rock bands of the 1970s.

Roger Waters: Still fierce at 75

A record that broke records

The concept album The Dark Side Of The Moon was released in 1973. Based on Waters' ideas, the album featured all four band members and helped Pink Floyd to finally take off in the US. It became a worldwide success and holds a record after spending 740 weeks on the American Billboard charts, from 1973 to 1988.

Roger Waters: Still fierce at 75

Pigs fly with Pink Floyd

The LP Animals released in 1977 consists almost exclusively of Waters' compositions. The vinyl is available in piggy pink; the accompanying tour was marked by a giant blown pig. The album is not as good as its predecessors, but still a cult favorite. Waters let the pig fly again later in his solo shows.

Roger Waters: Still fierce at 75

1990: 'The Wall' in Berlin

The stage production of the 1979 album The Wall was no longer set under good stars by the time it made it to Berlin in 1990 — the year of German reunification. Waters and Gilmour repeatedly fell out, with Waters often prevailing; he eventually left Pink Floyd in 1985. The stage show for The Wall tells Roger Waters' life: the domineering mother, the loss of his father and loneliness.

Roger Waters: Still fierce at 75

Further touring with The Wall

Pink Floyd took to the stage together for one night only in 2005 at the Live 8 Benefit in London — 20 years after Waters left the band. The decades were spent in fights about the names, the music and copyrights. The band had remained successful even without Waters until Rick Wright's death in 2008. Between 2010 and 2014, Waters took "The Wall" on tour.

Roger Waters: Still fierce at 75

A reconciliation?

In 2017, Waters released a solo album titled Is This The Life We Really Want? The album was the first of Waters' to hit the top of the charts — albeit only in Switzerland. Later that year, the Pink Floyd exhibition opened in London, where Waters was on hand with his former bandmate Nick Mason, who has referred to Waters as his oldest friend.

Roger Waters: Still fierce at 75

An outspoken critic of Israel

Waters has been criticized in recent years for his attitude to Israel. So much so that he has been accused of anti-Semitism. In 2013, he called upon the "Rock'n'Roll family" for a cultural boycott of Israel, with his stated aim of ending the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Time and again, he has put massive pressure on fellow musicians who want to perform in Israel.

Roger Waters: Still fierce at 75

Us + Them Tour 2018

Roger Waters has been on the Us + Them Tour around the world since the beginning of 2018. He left Europe behind at the end of the summer and will begin concerts in South America in October. Although the music veteran has seen his image crumble as a result of his anti-Israeli statements, which he also makes in his concerts, concert tickets are still selling well.

Victoria, where did you collect the items on display and what was the concept behind their presentation?

Broackes: A lot of the items came from the band members themselves, although I would say we have a number of objects in the V&A collection which had been here since the '70s and '80s. We have also supplemented a lot of material about the context around Pink Floyd or the designers and collaborators that worked with them.

We are a museum that is about the creative industries, so there is the band and the music, but there are also the people who design their album covers, the people who create their stage sets, the technicians, the engineers, the architects and so on.

Related Subjects

Powell: When I came in to design the exhibition, I decided to do it in chronological order, album by album by album. So when you walk around you see something in each room that is related to that period of time, whether instrumentals, music, graphics, visuals, album covers or stage sets. 

In the past, the V&A also hosted the extremely successful "David Bowie is" exhibition. Are exhibitions about pop stars a model that guarantees success?

Broackes: (laughs) That is a really good question! There have been one or two since David Bowie — not here but elsewhere — that haven't really worked. So I'm pleased to say it's not simply gathering a whole lot of things, throwing a lot of money at it and putting it on display.

No, the story hast to be right. Not that there is just one story, but the way you tell it and what you are telling. It's a different story all the time. For Bowie, we had 60 costumes; in this exhibition we've got two shirts. It's a whole different story: it's about architecture, design and the touring industry growing in the '80s and '90s. It's about a band that started as a cult success and became a global industry.

The inspiration for 'The Dark Side of the Moon' album cover came from a chemistry book

Also on display are the famous cover artworks, among them the iconic The Dark Side of the Moon cover. Aubrey, you designed that cover together with your partner. How did you come up with the idea for it?

Powell: We were in a studio in Abbey Road and Pink Floyd said, "We're fed up with your surreal photo designs. Can't we have something more simple? Like a sort of box of chocolates with a singular image on it?"

And I left rather depressed, thinking, 'Oh my gosh, that's not what we do.' But I was looking through a book of French chemistry and my partner Storm saw this picture of a prism going through a glass on a table from sunlight. And he said, I got it! A triangle with light going through it creating a rainbow. That is Pink Floyd!

The exhibition starts in the late '60s when pop culture was shaped. How important is that era — and Pink Floyd in general — today?

Broackes: For me, this era is a golden era. It seems to have been hugely important in music and in shaping of what was to come. However fantastic the music is today and even though great stars like Beyonce have a worldwide audience, it's not quite the same, I think, as what we're looking at here when music and sounds and society moved along in a much more closely knit fashion.

"The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains" runs from September 15 to February 10, 2019 at the Dortmunder U.