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London – “You Say You Want a Revolution?” exhibition positively transforms the approach to the 1996 – 1970 period, at the V&A Museum.
This major exhibition from the V&A Museum, London, is focused on the implication and influence of the late 1960s upon the life of today. From global civil rights, multiculturalism, environmentalism, consumerism, computing, communality to neoliberals politics, the world we live in today has been vitally influenced by five revolutionary years of the period 1966 – 1970.
“You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970” explores the turmoil, the strong feeling of freedom, and the legal variations that took place resulting in a deep shift in the attitude of the Western world.
The exhibition “You Say You Want a Revolution?” explores the way that youth culture catalysed an optimistic idealism, motivating people to come together and question established power structures across every area of society. More than 350 objects on all sides of photography, posters, literature, music, design, film, fashion, artefacts, and performance illustrate the way that this counterculture generation shook off the confines of the past, legacy of the Second World War.
“You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970” is organised in seven distinct sections, each presenting a different but very distinctive revolutionary environment. It provides a chronological and psychogeographical journey through five amazing years, from 1966 to 1970.
The exhibition starts with an introduction which shows up key events that had begun to challenge the prevailing conservative society of the early 1960s. The hope for a better world has been present throughout history, and at the V&A Museum is illustrated with an original copy of ‘Utopia’, written by Thomas Moore in 1516.
Investigating youth environment in 1966, the first section is dedicated to Revolution in Identity. It explores the world of fashion, style music, art and photography pioneered in Carnaby Street. This was the year Time magazine dubbed London ‘The Swinging City’, thus confirming it as an amazing cultural centre. The flourishing fashion scene centred
on new clothing boutiques on Carnaby Street and King’s Road designed for younger generation, illustrated with a Biba minidress, Mary Quant skirt suit, flamboyant striped suit by Mr. Fish, and a man’s jacket from Granny Takes a Trip. The V&A Museum exhibition explores connections between boutiques and art galleries, displaying to art happenings and works by Bridget Riley and Yoko Ono. Costumes designed for Mick Jagger and Sandie Shaw underline the importance of pop music during this time – soundtrack by The Kinks, Beach Boys and Martha Reeves & the Vandellas. The icon of the youthful London look was ‘the Face of 66’, the androgynous teenage model Twiggy; objects including a dress from her eponymous boutique and Cecil Beaton portrait indicate her fame and influence. Photography studios particularly thrived during the period, and works by David Bailey and Terry O’Neill depict figures from Michael Caine to The Rolling Stones, Robert Fraser and the Kray brothers. The main film screened is Blow Up (1966) by Antonioni.
“Section 2: Revolution in ideas” examines how individuals sought to discover themselves through alternative lifestyles, often with the assistance of drugs. Focusing on clubs and counterculture, it explores forms of experimentation, alternative lifestyles and the idea of revolution and it is concentrates on drugs, psychedelia, occult, underground literature and pirate radio. It presents a mesmeric evocation of London’s UFO club, an experimental venue known for combining live music with light shows and avant-garde film, where Pink Floyd were the house band and the UK’s first macrobiotic food was on sale. Audio-visual material including Jerry Abrams’ Be-In (1967) and examples of pioneering liquid light shows are presented against a background of psychedelic music from Cream, Jefferson Airplane and Pink Floyd. Artworks by the most significant graphic designers of the period including Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, Bonnie MacLean, Rick Griffon and Stanley Mouse are also on display. Alternative lifestyles are described through countercultural publications like The Long Hair Times (precursor to International Times) and objects relating to the occult. The significant influence of The Beatles is examined, with an area dedicated to the landmark release of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in June 1967, displaying handwritten lyrics for Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, the suits worn by John Lennon and George Harrison on the album cover, original illustrations by Alan Aldridge and George Harrison’s sitar and 1967 diary.
The focus of “Section 3: Revolution in the Street” is on how political protest increasingly turned violent from 1967, as opposition provoked a backlash from the authorities whether in May 1968 in Paris, in Prague or the Pentagon.
The third section explores revolution on the street, showing how youth cohesion crossed causes and continents into politics, leading to physical protest during the late 1960s. It centres on the 1968 Paris student riots, an explosive period of civil unrest. On display, Atelier Populaire posters pasted on walls during the protests, newsreel footage and music relating to the striking demonstrations. The period was also marked by extensive opposition to the war in Vietnam; propaganda material collected by an American soldier in Vietnam and puppets used in theatrical anti-Vietnam demonstrations in San Francisco are on display. Footage, literature, a wall of protest posters and photographs reveal the variety of causes and calls for solidarity, especially for civil rights, from gay rights to women’s liberation groups, by showing counterculture icons, including Che Guevara, Martin Luther King, the Black Panthers.
The unexpected “Section 4: Revolution in consuming” explores the consumer upheaval encouraged at World Fairs, Expo ’67 (Montreal, Canada) and Expo ’70 (Osaka, Japan).
Ongoing alongside the new counterculture, revolution in consumerism was fed by a rapid increase in personal wealth and the arrival of the credit card. The 1967 Montreal and 1970 Osaka World Expos presented ideas of a consumer-led future and welcomed tens of millions of visitors to an enormous showcase of mass design and technology products. Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome for the USA pavilion at Expo 67 presented a futuristic architectural vision. Film, sound and still footage from the expos are displayed together with innovative marketing materials. Highlights of this section include a Pan Am air hostess uniform worn both on commercial flights and on Vietnam Service to transport soldiers into the warzone; futuristic furniture and fashion, from Oliver Goldsmith eyewear to a Pierre Cardin dress; and furniture by Eero Aarnio and Olivier Mourgue. This section also analyses the increasing TV ownership and first real-time news coverage of the Vietnam War and moon landings. The space suit worn by William Anders, who took the defining ‘Earthrise’ photograph on the Apollo 8 mission, is on display alongside a moon rock on loan from NASA. A cinema area plays selections from a range of protest and avant-garde films including Yoko Ono’s Bed Peace (1969) to Jonas Mekas’ Hare Krishna (1966).
(This article firstly edited on 25th February 2017)
“You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970” exhibition runs at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, from 10th September 2016 until 26th February 2017.