Denver Art Museum Asks: ARe You Experienced? With Psychedelic Rock
DENVER, CO.- The Denver Art Museum (DAM) celebrates the era that
espoused free love, a vibrant rock music scene, and spectacular
graphic design with The Psychedelic Experience: Rock Posters from the
San Francisco Bay Area, 1965-1971. The exhibition will showcase more
than 250 wildly experimental and visually stunning works from DAM's
newly acquired collection of posters promoting dance concerts and
other "happenings" that have since become iconic symbols of the youth
culture of the 1960s and 70s. Organized by the Denver Art Museum and
curated by Darrin Alfred, DAM's AIGA assistant curator of graphic
design, the exhibition will be on view from March 21, 2009 through
July 19, 2009.
"These posters reflect the psychedelic experience through a melting
pot of hallucinatory imagery and unorthodox juxtapositions of
electric colors," explained Alfred. "The Psychedelic Experience will
emphasize the poster artists, their patrons, and the many influences
that shaped these significant works during a time of radical American
The exhibition will take visitors through the psychedelic poster
movement's early years, where designs were influenced by the art of
the past, including the curvilinear forms of the Art Nouveau movement
and the bright, eye-popping intensity of 1960s Op Art.
Artists also were inspired by the full sensory experience of the
dancehall environment, often reproducing it in their work. This was a
time when rock music was differentiating itself from rock'n'roll, and
the San Francisco music scene was stirred by multiple musical
influences, including the British Invasion, the American folk music
revival of the 1950s and '60s, Chicago electric blues and soul sounds
from Memphis and Detroit. In later years, the posters took on a more
surrealistic tone, with dreamlike and hallucinatory designs that
appealed to the drug-oriented youth culture.
Also included in the exhibition are the predominant poster patrons,
including renowned dance promoters Bill Graham from the Fillmore
Auditorium and Chet Helms of the Family Dog. In many cases, these
promoters gave graphic artists the freedom to create images that have
remained in the public consciousness for decades.
Artists featured in the exhibition will include the movement's major
contributors, Wes Wilson, Bonnie MacLean, Victor Moscoso, Rick
Griffin, Lee Conklin, David Singer, and design duo Alton Kelley and
Stanley "Mouse" Miller, among many others.
In January 2008, DAM announced that it had acquired 875 psychedelic
posters from Boulder, Colorado, collector David Tippit. The
collection consists of five sets, including a full first-print set of
the Bill Graham and Family Dog series (1965-1970); a first-print set
of Russ Gibb/Grande (1966-1970); a set of Neon Rose (1966-1968); and
a fifth set comprised of important miscellaneous posters and
handbills from 1965-1973. The DAM is the first museum to acquire a
full collection of first-print sets of this size. Complete sets of
these posters are rare and virtually impossible to assemble today, as
many works are extremely difficult to locate in good condition.
Visitors are encouraged to immerse themselves in the era of
experimentation and free thinking through video, music and
interactive outlets available in the Martin & McCormick Gallery.
Featuring access to the live music experience of the time, hands-on
poster making and a do-it yourself light show, these experiences will
bring the posters to life. The Psychedelic Experience: Rock Posters
from the San Francisco Bay Area, 1965-1971, is organized by the
Denver Art Museum. Local support is provided by Accenture, Avanade,
the citizens who support the Scientific and Cultural Facilities
District and the generous donors to the Annual Leadership Campaign.
Accenture is Denver Art Museum's Technology Partner. Promotional
support is provided by The Denver Post and 5280 Magazine. The
exhibition will be on view in the Anschutz Gallery and the Martin &
McCormick Gallery in the Hamilton Building from March 21, 2009
through July 19, 2009.
Elevating the psychedelic
By Kyle MacMillan
Denver Post Fine Arts Critic
The rollicking, risque night life of Paris at the turn of the past
century centered on the Moulin Rouge, with the cabaret's Grandes
Revues boasting a melange of entertainers, including its celebrated
Inspired by these extravagant spectacles, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
helped shape popular perceptions of the Moulin Rouge and captured the
spirit of this libertine time with his still-iconic posters and
related paintings and drawings.
More than half a century later, a similar symbiotic relationship
developed between eight artists and two now-famous San Francisco
nightclubs, which were ground zero for a burgeoning underground music
scene that reached its zenith from 1965 to '71.
These artists, who remain little known by the general public, and 300
of their experimental, often eye-popping posters are showcased in an
exhibition that opens Saturday at the Denver Art Museum and runs
through July 31.
The show is titled "The Psychedelic Experience," reflecting the
posters' vivid colors, trippy patterns and curvy typography and the
music-saturated counterculture that inspired them.
The display was spurred in part by the museum's much-publicized
acquisition in January 2008 of 875 psychedelic posters and handbills
from Boulder collector David Tippit and offers the first in-depth
overview of that holding.
"David says that there are probably two, three, maybe four
collections of this scale in private hands," said Darrin Alfred, AIGA
assistant curator of graphic design. "This is the only one of its
kind in a public institution."
Accompanying groups of posters by each of the pivotal designers,
including Lee Conklin, Bonnie MacLean, Victor Moscoso and Wes Wilson,
are selected album covers, tickets and comics, as well as
scene-setting music, photographs and films.
This look back at this transformative, often tumultuous time in the
late 20th century could hardly be more timely. As evidenced by the
renewed fad for bell-bottoms and hip-huggers, and the period's
resurgent influence across art and design, the 1960s are back in vogue.
In 2007, the Columbus (Ohio) Museum of Art presented an exhibition of
1960s Op Art, which had significant impact on psychedelic design. And
last year, the Tate Liverpool in England presented a show titled
"Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era."
But this poster exhibition is undoubtedly the largest-ever look at
the graphic design from 1960s San Francisco. As much as that
distinction is the show's calling card, it is also likely to be a
source of controversy.
It is not unusual for museums to undertake design exhibitions of this
kind, but such surveys are typically smaller in size and lower in
profile, especially ones that are so highly focused.
Some cynics are inevitably going to question whether this show is
more about big attendance than art-historical significance. Given
that the museum has made this a ticketed exhibition and set the top
admission price at $15, it is clearly expecting a sizable turnout.
(It no longer releases attendance projections.)
Some of these questions seem justified, considering that this will be
the only major exhibition on view at the museum during its four-month run.
That said, it is impossible to deny the impact of this startlingly
new aesthetic four decades ago and its continuing influence on graphic design.
Also sure to be controversial is an adjacent gallery, in which the
museum has fastidiously re-created the look and feel of a 1960s
apartment, complete with a series of interactive activities,
including impressively high-tech listening stations.
Some experts in the museum world and others will no doubt praise the
museum for going well beyond a traditional exhibition and developing
this unusual immersive environment.
But others count me among them will see this as just another step
in the Disneyfication of American art museums. While no one is
arguing against reasonable historical context and educational aids,
museums seem to have less and less faith in the innate visual and
expressive power of the art they present.
Kyle MacMillan: 303-954-1675 or email@example.com
It all started with the music, and the music is what kept it together
By Ricardo Baca
Denver Post Pop Music Critic
The Denver Art Museum is taking on an important piece of music
history with "The Psychedelic Experience," the rock poster exhibit
opening Saturday. Music was the foundation of the San Francisco scene
of the late '60s. It got everything started, and it kept everything going.
The music gave the community of artists a way to express themselves,
to celebrate, to come together.
Or was that the drugs?
Both, actually. The LSD that fueled Timothy Leary's acid tests and
inspired the book Leary co-wrote that gave this exhibit its name
was the mortar of the Bay Area scene of the '60s, but the songs and
bands were the bricks that created the towering, influential edifice.
What's especially beautiful is how all of the art intertwined. The
psychedelic rock- and jam-centered music inspired out-there light
shows that helped concerts evolve into what they are today, and light
artists were so popular they were billed on the posters underneath the bands.
A seminal moment in the movement was when Wes Wilson was commissioned
to create a poster advertising the Moby Grape show at the Fillmore
Auditorium in early 1967. In the years that followed, many of the
visual artists would bypass the promoter entirely and work directly
with the musicians, creating some of the most lasting album covers in
the history of the art form.
Fittingly, the music will be a bigger draw for many than the art
itself at "The Psychedelic Experience." Though the art is compelling:
Bonnie MacLean, for example, created some gorgeously twisted images
throughout the years, especially the peacock-situated Yardbirds/Doors
poster that acts as the exhibit's icon. And nobody can deny the power
of Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse's work with the Grateful Dead
including the emblematic skeleton-and-roses art they appropriated
from a 19th-century illustration.
But as powerful as those images are, much of their greatness comes
from their attachment to the music. The peacock in MacLean's image is
thought to be a Yardbirds reference, and how can you not love a band
that gave the world Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page?
Even though the exhibit focuses on transporting viewers to the
Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco in the pre- Gap years, the
curators also recognize the small role Denver played in the Bay Area
scene. In the September following 1967's Summer of Love, San
Francisco's Chet Helms and Denver's Barry Fey opened the Family Dog
on West Evans Avenue.
The Denver club was Helms' second venue, the original being San
Francisco's Avalon Ballroom, and it hosted the Doors, the Grateful
Dead, Captain Beefheart, Janis Joplin, Buffalo Springfield, Blue
Cheer, Quicksilver Messenger Service and others in the short three
months it was open as the Family Dog.
Helms and partner Bob Cohen commissioned San Francisco artists to
create posters for the Denver shows, and many of them can be found in
"The Psychedelic Experience." One of the best-known posters from the
Family Dog's time in Denver was part of a set, made specifically for
a Jim Kweskin and the Jug Band mini-tour that brought them to
Colorado from San Francisco's Avalon Ballroom.
The left poster was for the California show, the right poster for the
Colorado show. And when put together, they created a whole picture of
a rainbow sprouting from fiery fields not the first image that
comes to mind via Kweskin's loose jug-band sound, but it was fetching
And there it is again the mingling of music and art. Sometimes you
can draw a direct line from one to the other, and sometimes you
can't. But no matter the poster even Victor Moscoso's masterful
pieces that come alive (via psychedelic animation) in the glow of
colored pinwheels it's hard to see any of these
illustrations/collages outside of the context of rock 'n' roll in the 1960s.
Ricardo Baca: 303-954-1394 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sounds of the psychedelic era
In the psychedelic scene of the mid- to late '60s, it was the music
that inspired the light shows that later inspired the poster art.
The Denver Art Museum has been careful to acknowledge the music in
each step of "The Psychedelic Experience," and while viewers take in
the poster exhibit or walk through the "Psychedelic Side Trip," the
accompanying interactive gallery they'll hear the music that
defined the era.
Here are 10 songs you might hear during your visit and they're also
available on a 59-song iMix (called "Psychedelic Side Trip") on
denverart museum.com and iTunes.
1. The Doors, "Strange Days"
2. Grateful Dead, "Uncle John's Band"
3. Quicksilver Messenger Service, "Pride of Man"
4. Santana, "Oye Como Va"
5. Neil Young, "Southern Man"
6. Jefferson Airplane, "Volunteers"
7. Crosby, Stills & Nash, "Marrakesh Express"
8. Blue Cheer, "Summertime Blues"
9. Big Brother & the Holding Company, "Ball and Chain"
10. Janis Joplin, "Me and Bobby McGee"