You may have missed the show, but the catalogue remains on sale.
While the war in Vietnam raged, many U.S. citizens simply dropped out of the mainstream culture and opted for another reality entirely. San Francisco became a magnet for disenfranchised youth seeking an alternative to war, avarice, and greed.
“Crossing over,” by ferry or other means for transportation, became more than just a symbol in those heady days, as a recently closed exhibition pointed out.
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco presented The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion, and Rock & Roll, an exhilarating exhibition of iconic rock posters, photographs, interactive music and light shows, costumes and textiles, ephemera, and avant-garde films at the de Young. A 50th anniversary celebration of the adventurous and colorful counterculture that blossomed in the years surrounding the legendary San Francisco summer of 1967, the exhibition presents more than 400 significant cultural artifacts of the time, including almost 150 objects from the Fine Arts Museums’ extensive permanent holdings, supplemented by key, iconic loans.
“The 1967 Summer of Love was a defining moment in San Francisco’s history,” states Max Hollein, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “With the de Young’s proximity to the Haight-Ashbury district, our exhibition is the cornerstone of a city-wide celebration. The work created during this period remains a significant legacy and we are uniquely positioned to present this story in all of its controversial glory.”
In the mid-1960s, artists, activists, writers, and musicians converged on Haight-Ashbury with hopes of creating a new social paradigm. By 1967, the neighborhood would attract as many as 100,000 young people from all over the nation. The neighborhood became ground zero for their activities, and nearby Golden Gate Park their playground.
The period is marked by groundbreaking developments in art, fashion, music, and politics. Local bands such as Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead were the progenitors of what would become known as the “San Francisco Sound,” music that found its visual counterpart in creative industries that sprang up throughout the region. Rock-poster artists such as Rick Griffin, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, Stanley Mouse, and Wes Wilson generated an exciting array of distinctive works featuring distorted hand-lettering and vibrating colors, while wildly creative light shows, such as those by Bill Ham and Ben Van Meter, served as expressions of the new psychedelic impulse.
Distinctive codes of dress also set members of the Bay Area counterculture apart from mainstream America. Local designers began to create fantastic looks using a range of techniques and materials, including leatherwork, hand-painting, knitting and crotchet, embroidery, repurposed denim, and tie-dye. These innovators included Birgitta Bjerke, aka 100% Birgitta; Mickey McGowan, aka the Apple Cobbler; Burray Olson; and Jeanne Rose.
“Our collections have always reflected our interest and respect for this period in Bay Area history,” notes Jill D’Alessandro, curator of textile and costume arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “The scope and scholarship of this exhibition weave the many threads of this story together to create a new context and narrative that is both reverential and refreshing.”