Over the next few weeks we’ll be posting blogs about Glam! The Performance of Style, our current exhibition which critically re-evaluates art and style in the 1970s glam-era. It’s been open for a few weeks now and we’ve been delighted with the response from visitors. We really hope that you’re able to come to Tate Liverpool to take a look.

‘Mr. Freedom’, Nova (May 1970), Courtesy Paul Gorman, Photographs by Hans Feurer for Nova
Mr. Freedom, Nova (May 1970)

Our exhibition positions glam in the context of artistic and cultural shifts of the 1960-70s. By tracing cross-currents to connect key figures, it reveals how art ideas migrated to the front-face of pop culture in the guise of 1970s glam rock. Consider, for example, of Mr. Freedom, the King’s Road fashion boutique frequented by the pop glitterati of the period, which was founded by Tommy Roberts and Trevor Myles and which merged Pop art and Americana with 1970s kitsch.

A key artistic key figure is Andy Warhol, whose interest in glamour and personal transformation was central to the glam sensibility. His commercial interests led him to actively develop a profile beyond the art world (in fact, by the mid-1960s his ideas and iconography seemed to fuse with popular culture itself.) This interest in expanding the channels of artistic communicability led Warhol to work with the Velvet Underground, who he staged as part of his retinally amplified Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia events in 1966 and 1967 (with the band sporting decadent leather-boy chic informed by the camp proto-glam films of Kenneth Anger). Of course, Warhol’s studio was ‘the Factory’, whose silver walls created an environment of reflective surfaces in which to pose and perform, constituting a conceptual leitmotif for glam. Factory stalwarts include the transvestites Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn, the latter celebrated in Lou Reed’s song Walk on the Wild Side (1972).

Kenneth Anger, Scorpio Rising (1963), Puck Film Productions, The Kobal Collection
Kenneth Anger, Scorpio Rising (1963)

David Bowie was obsessed with Warhol (going so far as to play the artist wearing his actual silver fright-wig in Julian Schnabel’s film Basquiat of 1996). Both Bowie and Warhol had begun their respective careers in commercial graphic design and in 1971 Bowie went to the Factory to meet Warhol – a somewhat stilted meeting. The video of the encounter shows Bowie with long hair and wearing a bibbity-bobbity hat. Bowie played his song/homage Andy Warhol to the artist (a brilliant song, of course, which Warhol reportedly hated). Warhol also thought that Bowie’s long hair was boring, but he did like his shoes.

Billy Sullivan, Jackie Curtis 1969. © Billy Sullivan
Billy Sullivan, Jackie Curtis 1969

In May 1971 the Warhol-produced play Pork opened at the La Mama experimental theatre in New York. In July it transferred to the Roundhouse in London. The cast were photographed rehearsing, performing and partying by the New York painter and photographer Billy Sullivan (who was the set-designer for the performance). Sullivan’s photographs are presented in our exhibition – with a contemporary glam soundtrack by Alessio delli Castelli - providing a portal into the New York/London glam milieu of the early 1970s. While in London, Bowie met with the Pork cast and some were subsequently recruited to staff Mainman Inc., his first management company in the United States. To me, Bowie’s chameleon-like invention of fictional personae through the 1970s was completely Warholian.

Warhol also influenced the conceptual development of Roxy Music. Warhol superstar Baby Jane Holzer was name-checked in the lyrics of Roxy Music’s first single Virginia Plain (its title deriving from a painting created in the mid-1960s by lead singer and songwriter Bryan Ferry while under the tutelage of Pop artist Richard Hamilton). Ferry’s fellow student Mark Lancaster provides another link between Warhol and glam, spending time at the Factory (at Hamilton’s suggestion) where he met Jack Smith and starred in Warhol’s film Kiss (1964).

Can readers think of any other examples of art ideas feeding into popular culture?