This exhibition is one of the best I’ve ever seen. I’ve visited plenty in my time so that’s a bold assertion but one I make without hesitation.
Taking its title from the first line of The Beatles 1968 song “Revolution”, it leads you on an interactive journey through the years 1966 to 1970, combining art, costume, film, music and propaganda.
As you embark, you are invited not simply to reflect upon times past, but to consider their contemporary relevance and the lessons we can learn for the world we live in today.
Not surprisingly, The Beatles feature prominently. The exhibition begins with grainy footage of the “Fab Four” being greeted by huge adoring crowds. This is interspersed with another fresh faced figure, US President John F Kennedy famously declaring in June 1963, “Ich bin ein Berliner!” Given the truth behind the Kennedy myth, visiting on the day of Fidel Castro’s death seemed fitting.
JFK died within months of that speech so never lived to see the events depicted in the rest of the exhibition. By contrast the handwritten lyrics and costumes on display demonstrate how The Beatles moved with the times and helped shape events, metamorphosing from the black and white conformity of their early years to the multicoloured psychedelia of Sergeant Pepper.
The breadth of the exhibition is far wider than The Beatles though. Many of the major events that made the late 1960s so exhilarating are captured. In one corner there are the iconic uniform of the Black Panther Party and the “peacock” chair in which its leader Huey P Newton was famously photographed.
Nearby there is a stunning poster produced in solidarity with the imprisoned activist Angela Davis alongside some of Emory Douglas’s Black Panther illustrations. There are exhibits from the pioneering campaign against homophobia that erupted after the police raid on the Stonewall bar in Greenwich Village, New York. Elsewhere are the front cover of Germaine Greer’s classic study The Female Eunuch and references to the landmark Roe versus Wade US Supreme Court ruling that strengthened women’s abortion rights.
In another room we are introduced to the dramatic events of May ’68 when students occupied universities and a general strike paralysed much of France. And the exhibition would not be complete without acknowledging the extraordinary influence of Maoism in China and beyond.
One final room is dedicated to the legendary 1969 Woodstock concert. It includes a range of outfits worn by different performers and the customised kit of The Who’s drummer Keith Moon. An extract of his band’s performance blasts out from a giant screen along with those of Joan Baez, Joe Cocker, Sly & the Family Stone and Country Joe McDonald. Fittingly it ends with headline act Jimi Hendrix’s spine tinglingly brilliant destruction of “The Star Spangled Banner”.
Do yourself a favour – go and see this exhibition then buy, beg, borrow and read Chris Harman’s masterwork, The Fire Last Time: 1968 and After.