It’s so … quiet … it is so … quiet. My first big outing since I got back from Paris: to walk through the MCA’s new rock and roll-themed exhibition, Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967. Compared to the exhibit I just saw at the Palais de Tokyo, Sympathy is so … sterile. I want to scream—we’re talking about rock here! The Cramps, the Stones, the Smiths, the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth—this is noisy stuff, people!

Yet these bands—and a symbiotic cadre of artists whose work on display in the new rock and roll exhibition at the MCA—are strangely muffled within the museum’s walls. Walking through the British room, a room awash in Keith Richards and Mick Jagger paraphernalia, there is, curiously, very little noise at all. Elsewhere in the exhibition, an empty recording box offers some pairs of headphones. I pick them up and hope for a beat. They don’t work.

What the hell? Shouldn’t a major art show about the symbiosis between post-1960s artists like Raymond Pettibon and rockers like Black Flag have a soundtrack? Shouldn’t it have a soundtrack so rocking that people shimmy a bit in their Vans when they’re staring at the art? Shouldn’t the soundtrack be flying off the shelves at the MCA store?

Instead, there is an eerie background noise from the various “video rooms”—one of which did, in fact, rock my socks off. It’s a video project by a younger artist named Slater Bradley. Slater sent his buddy—apparently, a friend who is his “doppelganger”—out to play the drums in the middle of the UC Berkeley football field—while the team practiced. The longhair bangs out “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin while some pretty preppy-looking football dudes run at him. It was cool. And there was sound.

The lack of sound isn’t my only quibble with the show. There’s not much to hear, but there’s not that much to see, either. At one point, maybe when we were staring at some CD cover, perhaps it was the newspaper collages, the man friend leaned over and whispered in my ear: “Remember what Warhol said: ‘Art is whatever you can get away with.’”

Apparently, so are museum exhibitions.

P.S. This month is a great time to check out the exhibit; the MCA is free throughout October.

Here’s what the critics said:

“Damn. I wanted to like it,” said Paul Klein in his art letter)

Chicago Sun-Times’ Kevin Nance walks through some of the big stuff.

Chicago Tribune’s Alan Artner previews the exhibit.

What do you think?

Images: Courtesy of the MCA