If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear flowers in your hair…and go to the “The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion and Rock & Roll” exhibit at the de Young museum.
50 years ago, thousands of young people flocked to the city for a season that would change the world. It was the summer of love—the summer that really put San Francisco on the map as the epicenter of modern bohemianism.
The de Young museum has done an excellent job creating not just an exhibit, but an experience for its patrons. You come away feeling like you passed through a wrinkle in time and lived the summer of 1967 in San Francisco. So whether it’s your first time in the city by the bay, you’ve visited before, or are a full-time resident, the de Young museum’s latest offering is not to be missed!
The exhibit catalog begins with an essay by Dennis McNally titled Not Past At All: The Legacy of San Francisco’s Summer of Love. In his essay he demonstrates the impact of the Summer of Love era on culture and society:
As William Faulkner so wisely put it in another context, ‘The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.’ The Summer of Love era has never really left us; our current national culture wars are rooted in the profound intellectual challenges of the 1960s, which themselves go at least as far back as the 1840s, when bohemianism—art and the spiritual arrayed against bourgeois achievement—arose in Europe, and when Henry David Thoreau confronted American notions of its own exceptionalism, the Protestant work ethic, and humankind’s relationship to nature.”
The fact that the Summer of Love played an integral part in the evolution of bohemianism is indisputable. When people hear “boho” or “bohemian-chic”, most automatically think of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Flower crowns, peace signs, drugs and rock and roll all have become the icons today’s society associates with hippie culture and bohemians. All of these bohemian emblems, this exhibit suggests, can trace their history back to this fateful summer in San Francisco.
As the Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco explained:
Though the 1960s counterculture was an international phenomenon, the “Summer of Love,” as it was proclaimed by the media, in San Francisco was unique, namely because it was as much a creative movement as it was a political one. Artists, designers, poets, writers, musicians, and performers developed their own visual language and new forms of communication, leaving a legacy of material culture that owes an aesthetic debt to the city of its origin.”
Something truly unique about this exhibit is that it begins outside of the museum. Walking up to the museum doors, visitors can see iconic street signs such as “Haight” and “Ashbury”; there are large blown up images of popular buttons from the era with slogans such as “Make love not war” and “Equal Rights” on the ground and plastered all over the windows. This was intentional and fitting as the events surrounding the historic Summer of Love took place on the grounds around the museum and in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood a stone’s throw away.
Once inside the building, and downstairs in the exhibit gallery, museum patrons will walk down a long hall wallpapered with black and white photos and philosophical quotes from the champions of the Summer of Love.
The lesson on the bohemian philosophy of the hippie movement continues inside the first gallery with a collection of books on display. These books are the genesis of the ideology that led to the Summer of Love. They are the literature of the movement—the bohemian canon.
In addition to the literature of the movement, The Trips Festival of 1966 is contextually significant. This festival became, in essence, a “preview of coming attractions” for the Summer of Love three years later. In the Trips Festival gallery you can experience the festival through an old black and white film of the event itself projected on the walls of a small space.
The trippiness of the exhibit does not begin and end with information about the Trips Festival, you get to experience what an LCD trip would feel like in a room with a psychedelic light show projected on the walls and bean bag chairs on the floor.
Without giving too much away, because I do want you to go and experience the exhibit yourself, I have to say that in my opinion the piece de resistance for the entire exhibit is the fashion. Mannequins dressed in clothing that was popular and worn by influential people from the era are displayed throughout the galleries.
So, listen to Scott McKenzie’s hit song, and head to the de Young museum in Golden Gate Park before the exhibit closes on August 20th.
Ten things not to miss in ‘The Summer of Love Experience’:
- Psychedelic LCD trip simulation room
- The 1967 message board from the Psychedelic Shop, including a notice about hippie volunteers cleaning Haight Street Saturday mornings.
- Robert Rauschenber’s Revolver II, 1967.
- Birgitta Bjerke’s crocheted wool and glass-bead bedspread, commissioned by Frankie Azzara, girlfriend of Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir.
- Jerry Garcia’s red-and-white striped “CaptainTrips” top-hat.
- Rainbow Cobblers, “Sequoia” boots, ca. 1970. Appliqued dyed leather.
- “Watergate” Jeans, ca. 1973. Cotton denim with printed, hand-drawn, stamped cotton plain weave appliques.
- Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley’s Grateful Dead posters.
- Humbead’s Map of the World, 1968, Color offset lithograph poster by Earl Crabb and Rick Shubb.
- Larry Keenan’s gelatin silver print of Micahael McClure, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, 1965.
‘THE SUMMER OF LOVE EXPERIENCE’:
When: April 8-Aug. 20, 9:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday
Where: de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
Admission: $10-$25, 415-750-3600, deyoung.famsf.org
More info.: Video and audio elements from the exhibition are at digitalstories.famsf.org/summer-of-love