Think about the last time you were exposed to glam. Chances are it was awkward teenagers sashaying to Sweet on a Top of the Pops rerun. Keep replaying those memories and you’re soon in Operation Yewtree territory.
Yes, glam is most definitely in need of a makeover. So is Tate Liverpool’s audacious new exploration of the era an exhibition whose time has come?
Yes and no.
Glam, The Performance of Style, is an attempt to give this most ephemeral and transient of movements a weighty, curatorial reassessment. A chance for it to make an exhibition of itself.
And therein lies the problem. Glam’s innate desire to make merry with the dressing up box lends itself more to the transient tackiness of glitter glue than the hooks and nails of white gallery walls, and too much of this show is as weightless as a feather boa while much else, including Martin Parr’s gritty council estate images of Bay City Rollers fans seem, at best, distant satellites of the glittery mothership.
That’s not to say there isn’t much to see, and enjoy, here. To an extent, the exhibition tries to capture Glam’s wilful exuberance – two huge gallery walls are given over to ‘Glamscapes’ of LP sleeves, magazine spreads and memorabilia: a timeline of UK and US Glamology. Enjoyable enough, but no more so than a scrapbooking session, or one of those ‘I Love the 70s’ late night cable TV programmes.
Elsewhere – not unlike Bowie circa 1971 – the exhibition seems thin and unfocused. Yes, David Hockney’s luxuriant Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy is the period’s preeminent artwork; perfectly encapsulating early 70s hedonism in the deep pile of the sheepskin rug curling around designer Ozzie Clark’s naked feed. You half expect it to be whipped out to be used for a Roxy Music album cover once Hockney’s finished painting it. But no, Warhol’s godawful video montages are not glam, nor, in any remote way, interesting.
Where the exhibition attempts at a historical context there’s a sense of crowbar coercion, and much of the juiciest juxtaposition (Glam set against a backdrop of three day weeks and power cuts) is crucially overlooked. Instead, we’re encouraged to believe the photo sets of kids playing with body art and gender signified something more than, well, kids playing with body art and gender. It was ever thus. And not much on display was meant for, nor should be, exhumed forty years down the line.
Summer of Love, part 2, this is not.
Talking of which, was London’s seminal 60s boutique, Biba (gorgeously captured in a Twiggy magazine photospread) glam? Was glam as luxe as a 1920s lounge and lalique lampshades? Or was it the Captain Fantastic costumes of Elton John?
If, like us, you thought it was the latter, you’ll be amazed at the omission of John. Gary Glitter’s absence is marked, too. Curatorial, or cowardly? You decide.
Taking Glam in its widest forms, the Tate’s show bolts on performance art, video, costumes and magazines. It coaxes Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Pop Art, Psychedelia and Abstract Expressionism into the mix in an attempt to place glam in context, as the ultimate flowering of art school abandon and androgenous experimentation. But it feels as forced and mannered as those awkward shots of Top of the Pops bassists, dragged up, trying to look cool behind Bowie (an impossible task: if Glam! shows us anything it’s how stratospherically far ahead of the pack Bowie was, post Ziggy Stardust).
Taken as a whole, the overarching impression is that Glam! is not nearly as glam as it could be. Two exhibits stay with me: a video installation of Roxy favourites ‘Moody and The Menstruations’ – mildy annoying art school types larking around with hairy arsed builders, and a poster from The Sun, of Marc Bolan, taken around the time no self respecting music fan would touch him. Another example of the arse end of glam.
We might not have been promised jetpacks, but we did hope for more sequins. And definitely more of Antony Price’s flamboyant costumes for Brians Eno and Ferry. Now that’s what we call glam.
8 February – 12 May