The Velvet Underground experience gets museum treatment in Paris

Nico, John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Lou Reed and Sterling Morrison as depicted by Guy Peellaert in the Rock Dreams series (1970-1973).

Few artists are as tied to a specific time and place as The Velvet Underground are to 1960s New York, when gritty Manhattan and a Beat-influenced reaction against Flower Power provided the perfect storm for an explosive new blend of pop and avant-garde art. If the band of misfits only lasted 5 years and remained largely unknown from mainstream audiences, it nevertheless changed the course of rock and became a model for countless artists and musicians.

Following last year's successful David Bowie Is retrospective, the Philharmonie de Paris is currently hosting New York Extravaganza, an ambitious exhibition tracing the roots of the experimental band co-created in 1965 by John Cale and Lou Reed, and briefly yet memorably associated with Andy Warhol. 

Guy Peellaert was vocal about the Velvet's influence on his 1960s work. The band's short-lived existence between 1965 and 1970 eerily mirrors Peellaert's so-called Pop period, which saw the playful, candy-colored eroticism of The Adventures of Jodelle (1965) give way to a darker, more radical, drug-fueled nihilism with Pravda La Survireuse (1967), which Peellaert claimed had been created almost entirely while listening to the Velvet Underground's first album (to be fair, the electric rage of The Rolling Stones was another strong facilitator).

When the artist created the Rock Dreams series between 1970 and 1973, the band had already dismantled, and Peellaert portrayed its five members as creatures of the night roaming the streets of Manhattan, like moths chased away by the majestic light of dawn—presumably on a "Sunday Morning". As he did typically throughout the Rock Dreams series, Peellaert had encapsulated the essence of the Velvet's ethos, the flow of emotions, lyrics and rhythms of their music, all into a single constructed image. Peellaert and Lou Reed would bond over this portrait at the Rock Dreams exhibition in New York, in 1974, where the solo portrait of Reed, biting his nails as frenemy David Bowie looks on from the background, was also on view.

In 1990, when the Fondation Cartier organized an Andy Warhol retrospective which saw Lou Reed and John Cale (later joined by Maureen Tucker and Sterling Morrison) share the stage once again to perform their tribute album Songs for DrellaPeellaert lent his own copy of the famous "Banana" album to be exhibited alongside other Warhol artworks.

It should be noted that the piece on view at the Philharmonie exhibition, which appears alongside works by Nan Goldin, Gus Van Sant or Douglas Gordon, is not the original painting, but a large digital print issued by Peellaert in 2003. In 1974, the painting was included in a wish-list ordered by David Bowie but the singer, who would be credited with popularizing the Velvet Underground throughout the 1970s, ultimately wasn't able to complete the purchase. It is not currently known where the Velvet painting is located.

Read more about the exhibition from The New York Times here.

A signed edition of the Velvet Underground's first album is featured in the Philharmonie exhibition.

A signed edition of the Velvet Underground's first album is featured in the Philharmonie exhibition.