The Guardian FEBRUARY 6, 2013 - by Mark Brown


New exhibition explores the zeitgeist of a period long abhorred as a supposed cultural vacuum.

What with the three-day week, power cuts, platform shoes, elephant-flared jeans, alarming haircuts and Here Come The Double Deckers, you may think there are very good reasons for drawing a veil over the early '70s. But Tate Liverpool disagrees: it wants to shout the years from the rooftops.

Glam! - a new art show opening to the public on Thursday - is the first critical evaluation of the era on this scale. "There are so many punk shows and so many '60s shows," said curator Darren Pih. "This is the first to try and articulate what was going on in the early '70s. It is assumed to be a vacuum but actually it was a really interesting time, particularly in terms of things like identity politics, gay lib and feminism."

The gallery has brought together more than a hundred works by artists including Richard Hamilton, David Hockney and Cindy Sherman to show that glam is not simply pouting, gold mascara and Lurex catsuits - although, thankfully, there is plenty of that, too. The exhibiton wants to show the crashing convergence of fine art with popular culture.

"We're trying to view the artistic developments of the early '70s through the prism of glam," said Pih.

Glam, the show argues, was an attitude, a state of mind, a heightened sense of self-awareness and identity.

In the first room are costumes worn by Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno, the latter designed by the artist Carol McNicoll. "At the time," Pih said, "she was more excited by Brian Eno wearing one of her outfits than having a show at the Tate. This was what she aspired to. It was like living sculpture."

The importance of look and image was huge. Ferry is quoted in the exhibition catalogue from an interview he gave to The Guardian's Robin Denselow in 1972, under the headline "Roxy - a new phenomenon in rock music". Ferry says: "We couldn't go on stage without some form of presentation. We don't associate sincerity in music with drabness in appearance."

The crazy side of art from the time features heavily, not least filmed performance from a group called Moody And The Menstruators, who satirised '50s rock music. "They were big in Germany," said Pih.

Then there are little-known photographs of the artist Sigmar Polke wrapped in a giant snakeskin, for no obvious reason other than: why not? ("They're crazy, really.")

The influence of Andy Warhol on key glam figures such as David Bowie is also explored, with a film of a rather stilted chat between the two men in 1971. "There's no chemistry," admits Pih: not, perhaps, until they start talking about shoes.

The show features a play that Warhol produced in New York called Pork - lots of cavorting and nudity - that was brought to the Roundhouse, in north London, and which hugely influenced Bowie. Shortly afterwards, he became Ziggy Stardust, and recruited the entire cast to be his first management company. Photographs by Pork's set designer, Billy Sullivan, are shown on a slideshow.

One room is given over to an installation Pih calls "the ultimate glam rock artwork": Marc Camille Chaimowicz's Celebration? Realife (1972), which features mirror balls, strobe lighting and objects scattered over the floor while Bowie music plays. Pih said the artist had reinstalled the work especially for Tate, adding a 2013 touch: a woman's shoe he found down a Liverpool alleyway - "a residue of a night out".

Pih, born in 1971, does not think the early '70s were as grim as people remember them as being: "the '60s ended in 1973, I think," he said - "the camp apex of glam rock."

It is certainly a time that has been critically neglected, especially when compared with the years that came after. Pih said: "The thing about punk is that it was inherently critical; it was against the system. Even though it made people lots of money and it quickly became part of the mainstream, at the time it felt oppositional, which is kind of the natural position of the visual arts."

Glam was maybe less so. It was more a continuation of things happening in the '60s - a second wave of feminism; it was still very art-school. "It was at the front face of popular culture," Pih says.

"We are trying to have show with a glam aesthetic but also tell the story of the art of the period and show some of the most interesting art."

Glam! The Performance of Style is at Tate Liverpool from February 8 to May 12.