Iconic Art
The coolest collection in music
By Nicole Rollender

If you told Giovanni Taliaferro he’d go to work one day and ride in the King’s car, he might not have believed you. 

Taliaferro, the man behind the extraordinary rock memorabilia collection at the new Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, helped acquire Elvis Presley’s 1963 Rolls Royce Phantom V, a swoopy, iridescent silver car, the stuff of rock-n-roll dreams, specifically for this location.  

“This puppy had a car phone back in 1963,” he says. “That blew my mind. Elvis was rolling in style.” 

When the car arrived, Taliaferro rode in the Phantom right up to the front of the casino. “Since the car arrived after construction was completed, a crew had to take the doors apart to roll it in,” he says. “They laid a plywood road down to push it into the entryway, and then they lifted the car onto a platform. It was very labor-intensive.”  

When you enter the Shore attraction’s front doors, the first thing you see is Elvis’ Rolls Royce, backdropped by a huge glass stairwell illuminated with color-changing lights. “You can’t imagine the sheer impact of it,” Taliaferro says. 

That’s the wow experience Taliaferro, director of design and memorabilia at Hard Rock International, and his team wanted to create for visitors – a veritable temple to music everywhere they look. 

Right near the King’s car, guests see mod suits worn by The Beatles, Prince’s purple Cloud guitar and the King of Pop’s white glove. “Guitar aficionados know Prince’s guitar the minute they see it,” he says. “Michael Jackson donated his autographed glove to us in London – literally everyone has seen it shimmering on stage.” 

For Taliaferro, this installation differs from all previous ones because of the sheer volume of the space and the quick turnaround. “This was the largest property I’ve ever worked on, and from demo to opening it was completed in 11 months,” he says. “It was literally 24 hours a day, seven days a week and thousands of people to get it across the finish line.” 

The Atlantic City collection is a “who’s-who from past to present,” Taliaferro says. And it’s truly awesome: John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics to “Imagine.” The recognizable gold outfit David Bowie wore on his Glass Spider tour. The last microphone Kurt Cobain used in a recording session before his death, along with a drawing he drafted when he was young. 

Taliaferro says the newest location nods specially to contemporary artists, with a large contingency of the artifacts from 2000 to today.  

“We’ve got five suits N’Sync wore, along with outfits from Nicki Minaj, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé,” he says. “We’ve got Lady Gaga lounging on a chaise in a white dress, along with a Vespa she rode in Malta during her 2009 tour.” 

As a tribute to local rock legends, the team dedicated a room to the Jersey Rock Vault. “We built it more like a gallery, with articles and jewelry,” says Taliaferro, a New Jersey native himself. The Jersey-centric pieces include one of Bruce Springsteen’s denim jackets, a guitar from Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora and the Harley-Davidson motorcycle once owned by the late Clarence Clemons, saxophonist in Springsteen’s E Street Band. 

Taliaferro describes the design process as an exhausting, immersive experience, with selecting the memorabilia as only one of the many layers of the project. “Where we showcase each piece and the way we construct the display isn’t an afterthought – we plan that out from the first day,” he says. “We treat every piece like the Mona Lisa, like it’s museum-worthy.”  

Part of that effort ensures that all display cases are appropriately illuminated and temperature-controlled. “We need the right lighting and environment that’s safe for the artifacts so they’re not damaged over time,” Taliaferro says. “We do this all around the world, and it’s a huge undertaking to find certain products to uphold those standards.” 

One of Taliaferro’s insider secrets? There are a variety of winning combinations to how he displays memorabilia. “We might pair the Beatles with the Ramones,” he says. “Did you know Paul McCartney used to check into hotels as Paul Ramon? There are just all these cool, hidden stories.” 

The more than 80,000 artifacts are rotated among locations, expanding the collection via auctions, donations, private collections, word-of-mouth, and constant interaction with the public and the entertainment industry. 

“When we announce a new location, we get a lot of direct donations from artists,” says Taliaferro, “Then we’ll often contribute to their favorite charity in their name when we receive the pieces.” 

Taliaferro points out that no matter how he acquires an artifact, he always receives proof of authenticity. “People have a misunderstanding about our collection sometimes,” he says. “That is Elvis’ guitar. That is Michael Jackson’s glove. These pieces are the real deal. We do a lot of due diligence to get documentation to support that authenticity.”

October 2018
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