Summer of Love – Art of the Psychedelic Era
 
by John Connolly

 

Summer of Love is a ground-breaking exhibition which reveals the unprecedented exchanges between contemporary art, popular culture, civil unrest and the moral upheaval during the 1960s and early 70s. The art and culture of the psychedelic period constitutes one of the most exciting but also much neglected phenomena of the twentieth-century. Moving beyond a purely nostalgic reception, Summer of Love attempts to uncover this forgotten and repressed aesthetic that continues to exert an increasingly powerful influence on many contemporary artists. The exhibition reconstructs the original creative and utopian potential of psychedelic art and locates it within the wider cultural and political context of the 1960s and early 70s, presenting it as an international phenomenon with works from the UK, United States, Europe and Japan. It demonstrates how artists were deeply entrenched in popular culture, influenced by the mind-altering effect of drugs and participated in counter-cultural activities. The inclusion of psychedelic art created by major figures such as Andy Warhol and Yayoi Kusama illustrates the critical role of psychedelia within the contemporary aesthetic discourse, providing a  complex and more comprehensive picture of the art and culture of the 1960s.

The psychedelic aesthetic manifested itself in all aspects of cultural production, ranging from art, music and film to architecture, graphic design and fashion. Summer of Love presents a rich selection of over 150 important posters, album covers and underground magazines, in particular from the San Francisco and London scenes. The exhibition includes paintings, photographs and sculptures by, amongst others, Isaac Abrams, Richard Avedon, Lynda Benglis, Harold Cohen, Richard Hamilton, Robert Indiana (his celebrated Love signs), Richard Lindner and John McCracken. Numerous long-neglected artists are represented with rarely seen or specially reconstructed works and installations. Major environments include Mati Klarwein’s New Aleph Sanctuary 1963-71, which brings together many of his motifs (which he also used in his designs for Santana album covers) in a spectacular installation. Vernon Panton’s colourful and amorphous furniture landscape tell of utopian visions of liberated and relaxed living.   

A special emphasis is placed on environments as well as film, video and multimedia installations, replicating the total experience of psychedelic light shows and music performances. Andy Warhol appropriated the use of light shows and film and slide projection for the Exploding Plastic Inevitable and Velvet Underground. Major film installations include a room with multiple projections of the Boyle Family’s films, first used in light shows for the psychedelic band The Soft Machine and a liquid crystal projection by Gustav Metzger. The medium of film is integrated into the exhibition through large-scale projections and an accompanying film programme with underground, experimental and mainstream films. Films presented in the exhibition include works by Lawrence Jordan, Stan Vanderbeek, Andy Warhol, James Whitney, Jud Yalkut and Nam June Paik.

The emergence and flowering of psychedelic art coincided with one of the most revolutionary and tumultuous periods of the twentieth century. The art in the exhibition is contextualised through a wealth of documentary material, highlighting the events, people and places in four centres of countercultural activity: San Francisco, New York, London and Liverpool. The sections include photographs, films of concerts, light shows and places such as the UFO nightclub in London and the Human Be-In in San Francisco, featuring Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary. The underground press, emerging during the 1960s as an instrument of alternative communication and democratisation, is represented through Oz magazine, International Times, East Village Other and The San Francisco Oracle and many other publications and documents. Providing an intriguing picture of a period in fundamental moral and political upheaval, they are also testament to an extraordinary burst of creativity and revolution in design and printing techniques.

Summer of Love opens with a rich selection of over 150 important posters from the British and American underground scenes. The majority of posters are from London and San Francisco with a handful of others from New York, Denver, Detroit, Brighton, Leicester (yes, I know) and Glasgow (images of Jimmy Boyle loved up blowing bubbles and wrapping daisy chains around his machete spring to mind). I cheekily took a few snaps of the posters before the attendants advised me against it (fortunately, they never took my camera off me, throwing to the floor followed by a bunch of crumpled bank notes in a Sonny Corleone stylee). The exhibition continues with the comprehensive collection of rock & roll art including original drawings, studies, finished artwork, paintings, poster sets and an extensive archive of original printing plates and uncut posters, featuring legendary bands, concerts and events. This collection, together with underground magazines and photographs represents both an artistic and counter-cultural history of the area from both sides of the Atlantic. I was fascinated to see displays of original LSD blotters, framed and presumably no longer awash with lysergic goodness.

The multimedia installations are a bit repetitive (Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable is the pick of the bunch, you can dance a while for Andy in this superb mock up) and I found the majority of the 2nd floor of the exhibition a lot more interesting than the 4th floor (the exhibition is split on two floors). The concert/event posters, album covers and memorabilia from the era are groovy but I found the most of the architecture and design in the exhibition a bit of a drag, man. Then again, it does have to compete with original copies of underground magazines like Oz and the Oracle plus the promotional video of Brigit Bardot’s stab at psychedelic “The Devil is English”.

The archive material was in main provided by Inspirational Times (www.petergolding.com), The V&A (www.vam.ac.uk/nal/guides/posters) and Wolfgang’s Vault (www.wolfgangsvault.com). Peter Goulding of Inspirational Times observed ‘The Tate Liverpool Summer of Love exhibition is a landmark in the history of art!’ Stitch that art fans...

The exhibition “Summer of Love – Art of the Psychedelic Era” is at the Tate Liverpool and runs from 27 May to 25 September 2005

 

 

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