Albert Alotta, Peacemeal, 1967, Film still, Courtesy the artist and the film-makers cooperative.

The Cultural Impact of a Social Movement when All One Needed was Love

Victor Moscoso, Neon Rose #6, Blues Project, Peter Golding Inspirational Times Collection.

Robert Whitaker, Eric Clapton, 1967, © Collection Robert Whitaker.

Gene Anthony, Hippies on the Corner of Haight and Ashbury, 1967, Inkjet print (reprint) , 35.6 x 27.9 cm, Collection of Wolfgang's Vault, San Francisco, © Wolfgang's Vault.


Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue
at 75th Street
New York
Summer of Love,
Art of the Psychedelic Era

May 24-September 16, 2007

The emergence and flowering of psychedelic art coincided with one of the most revolutionary and tumultuous periods of the twentieth century. Forty years after the legendary summer of 1967, the Whitney Museum of American Art revisits the period with Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era, an exhibition tracing the explosion of contemporary art and popular culture that was brought about by the civil unrest and pervasive social change of the 1960s and early 70s.

Opening May 24 2007, the exhibition celebrates a new psychedelic aesthetic that emerged in art, music, film, architecture, graphic design, and fashion. Curated by Christoph Grunenberg at Tate Liverpool and originally presented there, the show has toured the Kunsthalle Schirn Frankfurt and the Kunsthalle Wien. The installation at the Whitney, which is on view through September 16, is the only showing of the exhibition in the United States, and is being overseen by assistant curator Henriette Huldisch.

Psychedelic art, distinguished by its use of exuberant color, ornamental forms, and formally complex, obsessively detailed compositions, represented expanded or altered states of consciousness induced by music, light, meditation, and hallucinogenic drugs. In recent years, art of the psychedelic era has experienced an unprecedented revival and captured again the imaginations of contemporary artists, designers, and filmmakers.

Summer of Love reconstructs the original creative impulse and utopian ambitions of psychedelia and locates it within the wider cultural and political context of counterculture and the civil rights movement, the Cold War and the Vietnam War. The exhibition demonstrates how the psychedelic aesthetic permeated many aspects of popular culture and how artists, immersed in countercultural activity, fluidly crossed the boundaries between disciplines, genres, and media.

Summer of Love features paintings, photographs and sculptures by Isaac Abrams, Richard Avedon, Lynda Benglis, Richard Hamilton, Jimi Hendrix, Robert Indiana, Yayoi Kusama, Elliott Landy, Richard Lindner, John McCracken, and Andy Warhol, among others, as well as a rich selection of important posters, album covers and underground magazines. A special emphasis is placed on film, video, and multimedia environments, replicating the immersive experience of psychedelic light shows and performances, and including works by Jordan Belson, Stan VanDerBeek, James Whitney, and Lamonte Young and Marian Zazeela.

Also shown are a multiple projection installation of the Boyle Family’s films, first used in light shows for the psychedelic band The Soft Machine, and a liquid crystal projection by Gustav Metzger. Major environments include Mati Klarwein’s New Aleph Sanctuary 1963-71, which brings together many of his motifs (which he also used in his designs for Santana album covers) in a spectacular installation, and Vernon Panton’s brightly-colored crawl-in furniture landscape.

The art in the exhibition is contextualized through a wealth of documentary material, highlighting events, people and places in three centers of countercultural activity: San Francisco, New York, and London. The sections include photographs, films of protests and concerts, light shows, as well as events at places such as the UFO nightclub in London, the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, and the Human Be-In in that city's Golden Gate Park, featuring Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary.

The underground press, emerging during the 1960s as an instrument of alternative communication and democratization, is represented through Oz magazine, International Times, East Village Other, and The San Francisco Oracle, along with many other publications and documents. Providing a vivid picture of a period in fundamental moral and political upheaval, they are also testament to an extraordinary burst of creativity that revolutionized the visual vocabulary of graphic design.

The Summer of Love refers to the summer of 1967, particularly in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, where thousands of young people loosely and freely united for a new social experience. As a result, the hippie counterculture movement came into public awareness.

The beginning of the Summer of Love has popularly been attributed to the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park on January 14, 1967. The size of that event awakened mass media to the hippie counterculture that was blossoming in the Haight-Ashbury. The movement was fed by the counterculture's own media, particularly The San Francisco Oracle, whose pass-around readership topped a half-million at its peak that year. The grassroots street theater/activism of The Diggers also garnered media attention.

College and high school students began streaming into the Haight on their spring break of 1967. City government leaders, determined to stop the influx of young people once schools let out for summer, brought added attention to the scene. An ongoing series of articles in local papers alerted national media to the hippies' growing momentum. That spring, Haight community leaders responded by forming the Council of the Summer of Love, giving the word-of-mouth event an official-sounding name.

During the Summer of Love, as many as 100,000 young people from around the world flocked to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, Berkeley and other San Francisco Bay Area cities to join in a popularized version of the hippie experience.[2] Free food and free love were available in Golden Gate Park, a Free Clinic (whose work continues today) was established for medical treatment, and a Free Store gave away basic necessities to anyone who needed them.[1]

The Summer of Love attracted a wide range of people of various ages: teenagers and college students drawn by their peers and the allure of joining a cultural utopia, middle-class vacationers who came to gawk like tourists, and even partying military personnel from bases within an easy drive's distance. The large influx of newcomers began to cause problems. The neighborhood could not accommodate so many people descending on it so quickly, and the Haight-Ashbury scene deteriorated rapidly. Overcrowding, homelessness, hunger, drug problems, and crime afflicted the neighborhood. Many people simply left in the fall to resume their college studies. But when the newly recruited Flower Children returned home, they brought new ideas, ideals, behaviors, and styles of fashion to most major cities in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

On October 7, 1967, those remaining in the Haight staged a mock funeral, "The Death of the Hippie" ceremony, to signal the end of the played-out scene.

Bill Ham, Liquid Light Show by Bill Ham from the late 1960s, Collection of the artist.

Installation view of Summer of Love in Kunsthalle Wien: Gerd Stern (USCO) Installing his work Strobe Room / Stroboskopraum, 1967/2005, Foto: Stephan Wyckoff © Kunsthalle Wien.

Verner Panton, Phantasy Landscape, 1970, © Panton Design, Basel.