Beatles to Bowie, The 60s Exposed at the National Portrait Gallery

By Ed Sexton | 16 October 2009
a black and white photo of a man in a dark coat

David Wedgebury, David Bowie (1966). © National Portrait Gallery, London

Exhibition: Beatles to Bowie, The 60s Exposed, National Portrait Gallery, London, October 15 2009 – January 24 2010

This comprehensive exhibition from the NPG charts the rise of swinging London as the most important cultural capital in the world and the rebranding of Britain in the 1960s as a country of youth.

Beatles to Bowie leads the visitor on a chronological journey through the decade, illustrating how musicians of the era combined image, music, fashion and performance to become the icons of their time.

a photo of a woman in a pink dress doing a jigsaw

Tony Frank, Marianne Faithfull, Battersea Park, London (1965). © Tony Frank

Ten showcases of ephemera include magazines such as Fabulous, Boyfriend and Honey, record sleeves and other windows into an era when pop and fashion became the property of youth.

Heart-throbs including a pouting Cliff Richard, Adam Faith and the winkle picker-clad Beatles and Rolling Stones jostle for space against mini-skirted sweethearts Marianne Faithful, Sandie Shaw, Cilla Black and Dusty Springfield.

They may be familiar images, but this is not a hackneyed view of this oft-visited period. It includes some classic shots, but two-thirds of the 150 photos have never been on display before.

The title stars of the show appear regularly throughout. The Beatles were dominant pioneers of pop and fashion, captured in photos by Fiona Adams.

a photo that merges the faces of four men

Vic Singh, Pink Floyd (1967). © Vic Singh

David Bowie repeatedly crops up in numerous styles, yet he does not really break through until the end of the decade, with his 1969 moon landing-inspired Space Oddity.

This archaeology of pop in the 1960s also celebrates the photographers who created and endorsed the changing images of the era. There are shots from established photographers of the time, such as Norman Parkinson and Cecil Beaton, as well as young photographers including Adams and Phillip Townsend.

David Bailey, the most famous photographer to emerge from the decade, has his own wall with snaps from his Box of Pin Ups collection. The loose-leafed collection would originally have cost the equivalent of around three pounds, and now changes hands for thousands.

a black and white photo of a man sitting on a stool

Ida Car, Billy Fury (1961). © National Portrait Gallery, London

Models such as Pattie Boyd (the future Mrs George Harrison), Tania Mallet (who met a sticky end in Goldfinger thanks to Oddjob's rapier millinery) and Vogue legend Grace Coddington are shot alongside musicians reflecting the seamless merging of fashion and music in the decade.

A display of fashion mannequins from Adel Rootstein comprise striking life-size images of a selection of 60s sirens.

Vibrantly-coloured displays and music drum up the flower power vibe (man), but they could do with cranking it up a notch to shake off the somewhat formal atmosphere and make the exhibition truly swing.

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