London Begins at 40 Music Editor Robert Spellman reviews the new Bob Marley exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery.

The best experience to be had at the Bob Marley One Love Experience currently exhibiting at Chelsea’s Saatchi Gallery, is in the Soul Shakedown Studio, one of several rooms that make up the show.

You slip on Bluetooth earphones, wander the darkened space, and hear those eternal songs – Jamming, Could You Be Loved, Exodus etc – as related concert footage flashes on the walls. The exhibition is intended as an “immersive experience”, low on history, stories, anecdote and big on “feeling” and celebrating Bob’s message of love and unity.

Hit and Miss

However it all works with mixed results. In the One Love Forest room, intended as an evocation of the Jamaican interior with its plastic foliage, birdsong and dry ice, the urge to chill out on one of the beanbags lining the wall is not strong but the space is pleasant enough, and like much of the show has a family friendly vibe. There’s a rope swing for the kids.

Bob Marley One Love Experience
Bob’s Adidas trainers

In the Beautiful Life zone a 70s-style jukebox the public can operate pumps out the big hits and the table football and a vintage pinball machine (which can be played) tell us of Bob’s pastimes and there are unseen photos of the tracksuited singer playing the beautiful game. He was passionate about football and a big Spurs fan, but typically, there’s nothing on this.

A pair of Bob’s Adidas trainers are illuminated in a glass box but they only remind us of the dearth of personal knick-knacks on display. Elsewhere there’s one of the singer’s iconic denim shirts, a printed tour itinerary, flight cases covered in Tuff Gong stickers and a knackered acoustic guitar but little else. As exhibition co-ordinators, why couldn’t the Marley family provide more of this stuff?

Concrete Jungle and Fan Art

The most visually engaging space is the Concrete Jungle and Fan Art exhibition which is full of anonymous art donations. There are two clever Marley portraits made from fragments of broken seven-inch vinyl records by LA street artist Mr Brainwash, paintings galore and two impressive murals. These labours of love are heartfelt tributes and genuinely touching and soften the commercial edge of this exhibition.

Bob Marley
The man himself

The Saatchi Bob Marley is the one that appeared out of thin air for most people, a student poster icon up there with Che Guevara and the global embodiment of reggae music and Rastafarianism for the latter half of the Seventies. But there is a longer, messier reality to Bob’s life that stretches back from 1974, roughly the year this exhibition proceeds from.

He was a world-class songwriter but no overnight sensation. That’s another story to be told, maybe.

Bob Marley One Love Experience

Runs at the Saatchi Gallery from February 2 to April 18.

Words and photos by Robert Spellman.