Following the post war austerity, the 1960’s was truly a decade for the baby boomers to thrive. It was a defining era for the development of British society and culture of which revolution and rebellion was key. Crucial generators for this revolution were the development of contraceptives, economic growth giving teenagers purchasing power and the growth of ‘Pop Music’ exemplified by bands like the Beatles and the Who. This was captured in the recent Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition “You say you want a revolution? Records and rebels 1966-1970.” It questions how the sixties affected our lives today through the exploration of politics, art, music and fashion. To the youth, identity was key. Discovering oneself through the mediums of art, music, opinion and psychedelic drugs unlocked a new creative mind set.
The curators of the collection, Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh, have worked on many successful exhibitions including the internationally renowned “David Bowie is.” Following this would have been challenging as three years on the exhibition is still touring the world. However, the variety and volume of items curated is so huge it’s almost overwhelming. This can be seen as a reflection of the rebellious and slightly chaotic atmosphere of the influential decade.
Walking through the different rooms, there are bright, vibrant colours in every corner. Headphones were provided that played influential music of the 1960’s from artists such as The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Billy Holiday amongst others. This was a nice addition as the music changed as you entered different sections. However, as there was lots of information to take in and study, I had to choose whether to listen or read. Music was undeniably a defining factor of the youth revolution. As well as the headphones, there were original album covers on the walls and many to flick through.
The 1960’s was a defining decade for fashion, from the brightly coloured shift dress to the Mondrian dress from Yves Saint Laurent. This portrayed through magazine art as well as original garments such as the paper dress and the fish suit. There was also a display of Mary Quant’s Mini skirt which was a greatly influential design from the 60’s that definitely affected the fashion we wear today. There were also representations of celebrity icons such as Twiggy, the prominent teen model, and the Beatles with their Sgt Pepper suits.
The room I found most inspiring contained information and videos on gay liberation, second wave feminism, the Chinese and French revolutions, black rights and the Vietnam war. The section dedicated to the Vietnam war was particularly emotive containing graphic imagery, hand written letters home from soldiers and an American uniform. The struggles felt by the youth revolutionaries around the world was clearly evident and breathtakingly real. Oppression and discrimination was no longer being stood for and the political fight against the establishment was at its best. The events that were portrayed in this room are still relevant today and it’s the revolutionaries of the sixties that inspired those making a stand in modern day life.
In the next room, I learnt about the arrival of the credit card and amplified wealth increasing consumerism and blurring the socio-economics of the country. It was a key factor in the revolution as more people owned televisions meaning more people were aware of the political unrest in the world. The fixture in the centre of the room was constructed of many different sized cubes and contained many modernist furniture, fashion and technological items. There was also a representation of the space race which was a great achievement of the 1960’s. As well as this, models of the Boeing 717 jet aeroplane were displayed, a plane that standardized commercial flights.
Following this, the large exhibition room contained a representation of the youth’s lifestyle by recreating Woodstock festival. Three of the four walls contained large, cinema style screens displaying iconic footage from the festival “of peace and music.” Performances included anti-Vietnam war songs, Jimmy Hendrix iconic ‘the Star-Spangled Banner’ rendition, The Who and many others. When watching the film, bean bags were provided on a floor of synthetic grass adding to the semblance of being at Woodstock.
When walking around the room, there were displays of garments worn at the festival, some of which were seen in the film. A display case showed Jimmy Hendrix’s smashed guitar of which his poetry was scrawled across the back, alongside notebooks and more of Hendrix’s’ items. There were diary entries from attendees of the festival and many hand written plans from the organisers. This allowed you to further understand how it felt to be a young person at Woodstock festival, the original free music festival.
Over all, I would definitely recommend “Revolution and rebels.” The sheer size of the exhibition leads to an interesting and enlightening day out. The variety of item types and the addition of headphones means that there is no opportunity for boredom. For those that were not around in the influential decade, it’s an opportunity to explore and understand an era that we are told so much about. For those lucky enough to experience it first hand, it’s a chance to relive significant events and reminisce.