Glam! The Performance of Style

Christian Watts

‘I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring’ David Bowie

With the ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition starting in London at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and drawing in worldwide attention to the Glam era, it is not surprising that Tate Liverpool warmed up the cultural crowds with their ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’ exhibition.

In his own words, editor Darren Pih associates the Glam era, not just with the expected musicians such as David Bowie and Roxy Music, but with art and fashion, through ‘its acquaintance with theatrics, artifice, mythologism and androgyny’. Glam was a time of sexual revolution, where queer identity was in the forefront of the media through these powerful icons. The exhibition captures the 70s perfectly, and draws influence from every corner of the cultural world to bring a perfect retrospective of Glam to a city renowned for culture itself.

As a member of Tate Collective I have been working around this exhibition for months. Easily one of my favourite exhibitions to date from Tate Liverpool, it features work from some of the most influential artists of the time: David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Nan Goldin, as well as individuals who started to transform society’s  view on sexuality. No longer was it a faux pas in conversation. Sexual liberation was found in mainstream culture. With the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK in 1967, and the Stonewall Riots in 1968, the 70s was bound to be a decade where sexual liberation began to flourish.

Artist Mick Rock’s images of Andrew Logan as ‘Alternative Miss World’ host/hostess in 1973 was one of a kind. Androgyny was becoming more and more seen, not just heard of. The exhibition captures this perfectly. ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’ tells a narrative of the era through glitz, glitter and campness. There is no hiding from the sexualised Andy Warhol films of people doing things to bananas (yes I mean that in the way you’re thinking right now, Mario Banana No.1 1964), or the dominatrix furniture of Allen Jones (for those intrigued, Allen Jones, Table and Chair, 1969).

Glam! tells this story with two separate sections of the exhibition, which curator Darren Pih labels ‘Glamscape UK and Glamscape US’. It is interesting to note how the Glam era developed in both the UK and the US, and how each affected the other. We had David Bowie, who influenced the 70s so greatly alongside Roxy Music, Brian Eno and painters such as Hockney, whilst the US has Andy Warhol, who worked with film in his New York Studio (The Factory) to create a unique mix of fashion, art and sex. When these are combined, it is interesting to see how much of contemporary culture has been influenced by these artists, designers and musicians.

Personally, I have two favourite pieces in the exhibition. As a designer I am extremely interested in how spaces work and can be designed, like a combination of interior design and fine art installation. Therefore, the Marc Camille Chaimowicz installation Celebration? Realife is for me. Filled with disco balls, piles of glitter, lights, cameras (and some action), it is the definition of Glam in a small darkened room. With a sense of nostalgia, the apparently random array of whatever seems to hit a deeper chord. I have a strange fascination with rooms and spaces and what they can represent. To me, much like the title implies, Celebration? Realife represents a whole world of artifice combined with reality to create a bizarre mix of the two. My other favourite piece, The Jump (1978) by Jack Goldstein, is a fascinating 26 second film of a silhouette made up of lights doing gymnastics. I’m sure it does have a deep meaning of artifice and ambiguity, but to me, it’s just very pretty…

Whether you want to look at the social change and sexual liberation of the arts and culture in the 70s (or some other arty explanations), or just look at pretty, glittery and very gay things, I highly recommend ‘Glam! The Performance of Style’, on til the 12th of May, if you’re ever near Liverpool. Alternatively, look up some of the artists and works mentioned. It is fascinating how much culture from this pivotal era has influenced queer society today.

About Christian Watts

Christian is a soon-to-be design student at Goldsmiths, London. Originally from (near) Liverpool, he can usually be found with a camera or sketchbook. Works at art galleries pretending he knows what he's talking about. Follow on twitter @cjfwatts