Tate Liverpool celebrates the early 70s with Glam: The Performance of Style

By Mark Sheerin | 12 February 2013

Exhibition review: Glam – The Performance of Style, Tate Liverpool, Liverpool, until May 12 2013

Oil painting showing chic young coulpe infront of a shuttered balcony
David Hockney, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970–1)© David Hockney
If you thought glam was limited to music, this show will rock your world. True, there is plenty of pop culture ephemera to be viewed here. But compared with the fine art, the album sleeves and posters make up the tip of the iceberg.

Glam, it seems, is a far ranging artistic sensibility. Hockney shared it with Richard Hamilton who shared it with Warhol who shared it with Cindy Sherman. But this is the first time a gallery has demonstrated as much.

Of course, such artists are worlds apart. Hockney is more glamour than glam but this show does provide a good chance to appraise his famous Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy in the light of Mr (Ossie) Clark’s role in creating the lurid fashions of the early 1970s. The couple may look sober enough but, together with their eponymous cat, they do not lack for poise.

As might be expected, Hamilton is more acerbic. One of many iterations of Swingeing London, his painting of the arrest of Mick Jagger and art dealer Robert Fraser hangs in the same space. But whereas the Clarks of the world welcome in the new era of glam, the movement (if we can call it that) also spelled the death of 1960s idealism. Glam was narcissistic, terminally so.

Warhol is another Pop artist which this show co-opts as an exponent of glam. But the suggestion is convincing. Goings on within the mirrored walls of his Factory involved all the requisite play with identity and gender. Four monitors also relay the screen tests for Warhol’s house band the Velvet Underground. You may not have them pegged as glam, but they certainly were not pop.

Cindy Sherman, meanwhile, comes across as an artist whose entire career is built around glam. Suspenders, heavy make up and masks characterise her 1977 Untitled (Line Up) series. As for so many, the seventies gave this performative photographer a taste for dressing up and playing with personae. The prolific Sherman makes musical chameleon Bowie look relatively limited.

Colour photo of a young man in heavy make up wearing a robe
Jack Smith, Untitled (circa 1958–1962)© Jack Smith Archive, Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels
Curator Darren Pih does well to align these big names with the general tendency of his ambitious show. Yet it comes as some surprise to discover how many more artists have a thing for putting on make up and dressing up.

Between 1958-62 there were the decadent tableaux of Jack Smith. 1972 saw the arrival of Nice Style, a performance collective who posed as a rock band, sans music. Two years later David Lamelas pulls a similar stunt, posing for the camera with an electric guitar. And who might have thought that Gilbert and George could be bracketed in with the glam era? They are and it works.

If there is a criticism to be made of this show, it would be a criticism of the style which it celebrates. Glam seems to lead nowhere. Indeed the final room in this show, given over to broader expressions of glam with more conventional paintings and sculpture, feels like a hangover rather than a fresh start.

It is in this context we find Kandinsdingsda (Wir Kleinbürger) by German painter Sigmar Polke. This 1976 fusion of art deco, pornography and a cartoon terrorist puts a seal on a turbulent decade. While it starts as a celebration, Glam: The Performance of Style is in fact an urgent lament.

  • Open 10am-5pm (6pm from March 30). Tickets £3.30-£8, book online. Follow the gallery online @Tate.

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.

a film still of a figure made out of lights climbing a wall
Jack Goldstein The Jump 1978© Courtesy Galerie Buchholz/Cologne and the Estate of Jack Goldstein
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