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Exhibition - Sixties! Art, Fashion, Design, Film And Photography

by Editorial Staff in Media & entertainment , 18 april 2007

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

The Sixties, for thinkers of the New Right and ditto politicians it’s a obloquy that denotes the birth of everything that’s wrong in Holland and the rest of the world. On the other hand, for many others the Sixties are a period in which the yoke of frugality, which had made the post-war reconstruction possible, was slowly thrown off and the windows to the world were opened. During the Sixties the first generation reached adulthood which hadn’t experienced the deprivations of the Second World War personally.

These developments led to one of the most turbulent decades of the twentieth century. The exhibition “Sixties!” in the Gemeentemuseum at The Hague presents a unique portrait of this era. The exhibition starts in 1958 with the fall of the financially repressive Drees government, leading to an economic boom in the Netherlands which was eventually brought to an abrupt end by the oil crisis of 1973.

The explosion of events in the 1960s - from student riots to the first man on the moon and the Vietnam war - had a huge impact on artists and designers, triggering the emergence of a host of new movements. Created by the increasingly influential art trade, movements such as Pop Art, Minimal Art, Fluxus and Happening all came on the scene at this time. By presenting these movements and art forms side by side and in relation to each other, “Sixties!” takes a refreshing new look at the art of the now legendary decade.

Alongside Dutch artists like Ger van Elk, Daan van Golden and Jan Schoonhoven, it includes work by international stars like Bill Copley, Roy Lichtenstein, Richard Hamilton, Robert Morris, Dan Flavin and Andy Warhol.

The combination of art, fashion, films, photography and design will give visitors an almost tangible impression of the changes, not just in the arts but also in politics and society, which took place during this colorful period.

Thanks to the rise of the mass media, which made it easier for young people to follow emerging trends, a strong youth culture developed, with its own dress codes ranging from hippy to mini. Exponents of Pop Art like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jim Dine and Jasper Johns were inspired by this and played with the fading distinction between high and low culture.

This was not the only way in which artists and works of art lost their “sacred” status during this period. Arman emptied waste bins into a series of identical Plexiglas boxes and sold them as unique objets d’art in a limited edition.

In painting, Frank Stella went back to basics, eliminating all emotion, intuition and improvisation. This laid the foundation for what was to become Minimal Art. Minimal artists like Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Carl Andre put paid to the idea of the personal signature of the artist.

Their works feature simple, geometrical shapes, which were generally machine-made. Artists like Joseph Beuys and Gilbert & George went on to abandon the studio in favor of projects or happenings executed in public spaces and recorded on film.
The Dutch art world was at the forefront of all these developments, but nevertheless preserved its own distinctive identity. For this reason, “Sixties!” includes a separate but adjacent presentation of a number of Dutch artists, such as JCJ Vander Heyden and Anton Heyboer, but also photographers such as Gerard Fieret and Ed van der Elsken.

With this exhibition the Gemeentemuseum also makes a link with its own history since during the 1960s, the museum held a number of highly influential exhibitions, including one on “Minimal Art” in 1968 and “The New Realists” in 1964. The popular visual icons of the 1960s are many and various: it was the era of the Beatles, Flower Power, Martin Luther King and the death of J.F. Kennedy.

Contemporary newsreels and documentary photographs will vividly evoke the atmosphere of this scintillating period.

It’s a question whether there will be any attention paid to it in the exhibition, but the rise and successes of the black human rights movement in the United States, also inspired the American gay movement, which had operated rather covertly till then. The increasing visibility and militancy of gay people resulted finally in those famous turbulent hours in the early morning of June 28, 1969, when the visitors of New York’s Stonewall Inn no longer accepted the routine raids by the police and hit back.

The cops were attacked by a infuriated mob of drag queens, street queens and dikes, and sissies with ostensibly limp wrists threw with broken bottles, stones and everything else they could lay their hands on.

The Stonewall riots were on the one hand the turbulent climax of an emancipatory development which had been going on for a much longer time, but on the other hand they also marked the beginning of the exuberant disco culture which typified the Seventies and Eighties.

However, nothing appears out of the blue. Mel Cheren, who was closely associated with the illustrious New York disco The Paradise Garage, opines in his memoirs “Keep On Dancin’: My Life and the Paradise Garage” (New York 2000) that the start of modern gay nightlife in New York, which had a tremendous influence all over the world, must be set down on New Year’s Eve 1960, when Le Club was opened. Le Club was small in comparison with the mega disco’s which would flourish later. “Owner Oliver Coquelin,” writes Cheren, “had converted an old garage into a fantasy hunting lodge - heavy tapestries and rugs - and only allowed the beautiful people past the intimidating doorman.”

Le Club was an overnight sensation with those who were allowed in and who would add luster to famous clubs as Studio 54 later. Le Club also hired the first DJ to become a star, Slim Hyatt. Till then dance culture had been based on live orchestras and therefore there were little specific dance records, although lots of Motown tunes met all the requirements. The DJs were supposed to have an overview of the new releases and to select the danceable records. Although Le Club was basically a straight place, gay men who complied with the glamour requirement were given an exuberant welcome.

In the Netherlands the developments in the gay scene during the Sixties were not very important. In “De roze rand van donker Amsterdam: De opkomst van een homoseksuele kroegcultuur” (The Pink Edge of Dark Amsterdam: The Emergence of a Gay Pub Culture; Amsterdam 1992) Gert Hekma states that a major breakthrough in the gay world had taken place earlier, in 1955.

The two dance halls which dominated Amsterdam’s gay nightlife for years, De Schakel and DOK, were already in full bloom when the Sixties started. But in the Sixties the gay world became, according to Hekma, “more diverse and aboveground.

The whole old system against intruders with doormen and owls [a secret sign to indicate the entrance of an unknown individual, possibly straight or police] turned slowly into something from the past.

At the same time the queers said farewell to the extreme manifestation of sissiness and renounced their secret language. Now they were homosexuals and decent guys they wanted to be.” In the course of the Sixties it turned out that not all gay men preferred this decent image, because in 1965 the oldest location of Argos was opened in Heintjehoekssteeg. This pub marked the emergence of the leather scene, which has occupied a firm place in Amsterdam’s gay offering ever since.

The Sixties were crucial in the development of the modern gay world in another respect. In 1963 Denmark was the first country to virtually abandon every form of censorship, which made this country a heaven for the production of porn magazines and, later, movies.

Subsequently, at the end of 1965 two gay magazines in the United States took the drastic step of publishing photographs of frontal nudes. Of course, this resulted in a judicial battle about obscenity for years on end, but finally the American Supreme Court ruled that the male body in itself is not obscene. This effectively ended censorship on a national level in the States. As a result of this ruling the emergence and subsequently flourishing of the porn industry was made possible, and this has had an inestimable influence on gay self presentation in the following decades.

“Sixties!” is on view till April 29.



In the New Issue of Gay News, 322, June 2018

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