Story by Stephanie Levin.
Summer of Love: If you are of a certain age, Scott McKenzie’s lyrics are forever etched in your memory. “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair, you’re going to meet some gentle people there; summer time there will be a love in there.”
And in 1967, as McKenzie’s song topped the pop charts across the country, thousands of young people rolled into Golden Gate Park for the Summer of Love. Marking the 50th anniversary of this epochal era, the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park celebrates the Summer of Love-Art, Fashion, and Rock and Roll perspective from April 8-August 20th, 2017.
For those not of a certain age, the 400 artistic posters, films, photos, costumes and light shows will take you on a trip back to the epicenter of the hippie counterculture–a time in San Francisco’s history when the ideals in search of freedom, enlightenment and an expansion of consciousness flourished. The colorful journey reveals the full spectrum of artistic expression. The most publicly visible in the 60s, of course, were the rock posters advertising concerts.
Posted on telephone poles and shop windows, these beautiful posters often disappeared, snatched by poster devotees who used them to decorate their living space. These vibrantly designed graphic works of art became collectables overnight and are now on display for the first time for the public to view. Look closely at each poster. The design on each is not only eye-catching, but the message is hidden in a maze of intense color and ornate creativity. Bonnie MacLean’s swirling text of a 1967 music line up from the Doors to James Cotton Blues Band fans into peacock feathers announcing a concert at the Fillmore, and the stark white eagle atop a multicolored world announces the New Year’s Eve Jefferson Airplane concert.
Rock music, in which San Francisco was the pulse of the music scene in 1967, etched the way for West Coast hippie fashion that is having a revival today. For the counterculture, clothing expressed a statement of identity, one that set it apart from the rest of the country.
Levis were not just a pair of pants, but a work of art cleverly designed by the individual wearing his or her re-purposed Levis. Embroidery, tie-dye, flower-powered applique and peace patches were de rigueur.
Clothing was handmade, designs hand-stitched, and to view them 50 years later on manekins is a testament to the counterculture’s creativity that has all but disappeared in today’s fashion world of uniformity.
Rock groups defined themselves by their music as well as their clothing. Examples of local 1960s designers recall the diversity and surreal fashion of this time period. The colors are dazzling, a potpourri of sherbets, melons, turquoises and jades, high top leather boots with Chinese silk applique, multi-hued crocheted dresses, psychedelic, colored mini dresses sporting large flowing sleeves, a beaded bodice of rich hues flattering a long, purple velvet dress. These are just a few of the fascinating fashions in the exhibit, and gives the viewer a window into the diversity of styles that prevailed during this era.
There are two icon collectables in the exhibit not to be missed: Janice Joplin’s intricately beaded burgundy handbag and Jerry Garcia’s red, white and blue striped “Captain Trips” top hat from the 1850s, an American flag tucked into the brim. And here again, the handwork, the dedication to design and detail, are a nostalgic reflection of days gone by.
While one room in the exhibit is dedicated to four colorful light show screens, giving viewers a sense of design and work that went into creating a light show before the word technology was uttered; a second room juxtaposes color with many of the black and white photos of famous rock musicians taken in their early prime from Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane, all photographed when they were part of the Summer of Love scene, before their music was played on radio waves outside the Bay Area.
In retrospect, The Summer of Love is also a historical perspective of movements, all depicted in brilliant posters from the black and white fund raiser for Martin Luther King’s family after his assassination to the environmental poster by the Sierra Club.
The colorful kaleidoscope announcing the release of the birth-control pill displaying couples in loving embraces, and the anti-draft sepia poster of the “Girls say yes to boys who say NO” were two of my favorites. The 60s was a heady time, and while these posters recall the past, all have relevance in today’s political landscape.
If you’re nostalgic for a time when San Francisco was the axis of artistic expression, rock music, enlightenment and social change, when a whole generation felt they were on the verge of changing society, or you are curious why 50 years after the Summer of Love blossomed in Golden Gate Park and people are still enthralled with it, then the Summer of Love Exhibit is a must. Everyone is welcome with or without flowers in their hair.
IF YOU GO:
Before visiting the Summer of Love Exhibit, immerse yourself in a multimedia digital preview of stories titled “Feed your Head” at deyoungmuseum.org/summer-of-love.