V&A promises a Pink Floyd trip with exhibition devoted to 1960s psychedelic rebellion

Exhibition will explore how a counterculture of rebellion challenged existing power structures in the late 60s

Adam Sherwin
Media Correspondent
Friday 26 February 2016 14:57
Pink Floyd's original members: From left to right, Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Syd Barrett and Rick Wright.
Pink Floyd's original members: From left to right, Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Syd Barrett and Rick Wright.

Shall we take a trip? The positive impact of LSD on youth culture will be examined in a new exhibition at the V&A which promises to recreate the psychedelic atmosphere of Pink Floyd’s 60s “happenings”.

You Say You Want a Revolution? will explore how a flourishing counterculture of rebellion, expressed through music, fashion, art and political protest, challenged existing power structures in the late 60s.

Opening in September, the exhibition will feature the suits worn by John Lennon and George Harrison on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, shards from a Jimi Hendrix guitar and copies of the underground magazines Oz and International Times.

1966 is the starting point for the exhibition, when LSD was still legal. Incorporating “3D sound installations” created by audio specialist Sennheiser, the show will give visitors a taste of the disorienting experience enjoyed by those who attended the UFO Club on Tottenham Court Road, where Pink Floyd played to a backdrop of dazzling lights and avant-garde films.

Victoria Broackes, co-curator, said: “The exhibition will cover the revolution in the head. The UFO was a short-lived and very influential underground club. We will represent John Hopkins’ light show, the psychedelic posters and a playlist including Eight Miles High by The Byrds.”

Visitors will be blasted by music, including Hendrix’s solo performance of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, played through Sennheiser headsets. The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream, a multimedia happening headlined by Pink Floyd at Alexandra Palace in 1967, will also feature.

Two hundred albums from John Peel’s personal collection have been leant to the organisers, reflecting the crucial role the broadcaster played popularising progressive and psychedelic music through his late-night Perfumed Garden pirate radio show.

Ms Broackes added: “This was a time when exposure to drugs wasn’t for purely recreational purposes. They were used to push boundaries and open the doors of perception. We’ll look at the impact of those discoveries after the trip was over – people began exploring Eastern spirituality.”

Steve Jobs, who said taking LSD was one of the most important experiences of his life, is represented as an important countercultural figure.

The V&A has secured the temporary loan of a rare 1976 Apple 1 computer, and the exhibition shows how the inspiration for the home computer revolution and the development of the internet can be traced back to the drug-fuelled, utopian idealism which flowed through the West Coast of America.

Key figures from the period including Yoko Ono, Stewart Brand, the environmental activist who campaigned for NASA to release an image of the whole Earth in space, and the model Twiggy have given video interviews for the show.

Olivia Harrison, George’s widow, has donated correspondence between the Beatle and a Cambridge professor about his search for a higher spiritual path and a diary written during the recording of Sgt. Pepper.

The exhibition, which builds on the audio and visual innovations of the V&A’s blockbuster David Bowie Is retrospective in 2013, will also show how the optimism, innocence and street-fighting rebellion of the late 60s curdled in the decades which followed.

Martin Roth, Director of the V&A, said: “This ambitious framing of late 1960s counterculture shows the incredible importance of that revolutionary period to our lives today. This seminal exhibition will shed new light on the wide-reaching social, cultural and intellectual changes of the late 1960s which followed the austerity of the post-war years, not just in the UK but throughout the Western world.”

Other exhibits in the show include a shopping list written behind barricades during the 1968 Paris student riots, original works by Pop Art pioneer Richard Hamilton and Pete Townshend’s shattered guitar from the Woodstock festival.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels, 1966 – 70. 10 September 2016 – 26 February 2017.Tickets £16 vam.ac.uk/revolution

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