Critics’ Picks

View of “You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966–1970,” 2016–17.

London

“You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966–1970”

Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road
September 10 - February 26

The years 1966 to 1970, which formed and devastated much of a generation, marked a definitive cultural break during the postwar period in Europe and the United States. The widespread counterculture movement that united London and San Francisco generated a revolution in music, graphic design, fashion, and social behavior. In a lively, multifaceted setting, there was youthful rebellion, lots of great recreational drugs, sexual freedom, feminism, underground publications, anti–Vietnam War protests, the Monterey Pop Festival, and Woodstock.

This exhibition deftly illustrates those five years, without nostalgia, to reconstruct an exemplary historical path via album covers, musical instruments, costumes, song lyrics, books, posters, comics; a spacesuit worn by astronaut William Anders, who orbited the moon; outfits worn by the Beatles, a copy of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (1964), and dresses by designers such as Mary Quant and Foale and Tuffin, originally modeled by Twiggy. An extraordinary sound track accompanies the show as well, overwhelming visitors with music that is not only sonorously exceptional but in its time expressed a desire to dismantle mainstream thinking. Everything was consumed quickly, as pop always is, but it was nourishing, replete. And the legacy of that era—aesthetically, politically, poetically—is still fascinating and influential.

But then reality intervened, smashing everything. I saw the show in London the day after Donald Trump won the election. I was dealt a cruel blow in the last room of the exhibition, where the now-iconic Woodstock festival was projected, diorama-like, onto three walls. The gallery space was completely full, with people of all ages. I entered while Jimi Hendrix was playing the “Star-Spangled Banner”—everyone was crying. Hendrix’s distorted rendition, and my wistfulness for this bygone age, concretized something quite terrible for our collective future.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.