For those born on this side of the millennium the “swinging sixties” may seem like ancient history. Yet the era’s far-reaching social, cultural, and ideological changes feel still surprisingly contemporary—especially so at Revolution: You Say You Want a Revolution, an ambitious exhibition making its first North American pit-stop at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on June 17, 2017.
This multi-sensory exhibit whisks viewers back in time to when Twiggy was the fashion world’s “it” girl, Vidal Sassoon was hair guru to the stars, and hippies took to the streets of European and North American cities to spread the message of flower power. It is a psychedelic visual odyssey, spotlighting iconic moments including performances by Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, and other musical legends of that era—many of whom burnt up the stage at Woodstock in 1969—and featuring 700 artifacts including clothes, posters, albums, and film clips of iconic sixties figures. A walk through the exhibit reveals shards from Jimi Hendrix’s guitar; suits worn by John Lennon and George Harrison on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; handwritten lyrics for the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”; and a rare Apple 1 computer from 1976 to start. Cultural context is always provided: Revolution connects these items to the protests against the Vietnam War and the fight for social equality.
Revolution is more than just a walk down memory lane, according to Diane Charbonneau, curator of modern and contemporary arts, decorations and photography at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. “We’ve focused on that period between 1966 and 1970, when the Western world was changing dramatically,” she explains. This time saw the launch of the first credit card; the debut of Earth Day; the rise of gay liberation and second wave of feminism, as well as a push for individualism and a spike in the search for spirituality through drugs. Revolution goes deep into sociocultural shifts to explore the birth of modern consumerism, as well as globalism, climate activism, and the technology that produced the personal computer and the web. “What surprised me most while working on this show was just how connected fashion, music, and design were to the big societal issues of that era,” says Charbonneau.
Originally launched in London at the Victoria and Albert Museum in September 2016, Revolution was tweaked for a Canadian audience—mention of Expo 67, as well as the student strikes in Quebec and other homegrown movements were added. It also offers a deeper look into the cultural context of the October Crisis in Quebec and rise of communes on the West Coast.
“Many revolutions were taking place during the sixties,” says Charbonneau. “In fact, Revolution’s biggest surprise is that all these forces from the sixties are still influencing us in 2017.”
The Revolution: You Say You Want a Revolution exhibition is on from June 17 to October 9 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
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