The 1960s are undoubtedly marked in the history books as a decade of momentous happenings. The new generations saw themselves differently – they were willing to change the society by introducing progressive and emancipatory models of behavior. One of the crucial phenomena which had its global effect was the cultural revolution which took place in the United Kingdom after which the whole decade was named The Swinging Sixties.
After the grim of the post-war years, the youth started embracing new and hedonistic ideas which were eventually transformed in a more politically articulated movement at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of 1970s. London was the epicenter of this revolution, blooming in visual arts, music, and fashion. The appearance of The Beatles, Mary Quant's miniskirt, the mods, the antinuclear movement, and sexual liberation all tossed and turned the British society. The iconic movie Blow Up by the renowned filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni encapsulates the dominating and often decadent lifestyle of 1960s London.
In such an atmosphere Pop Art bloomed, and one of the most prominent figures of the scene was art dealer Robert Fraser. This notable figure ran a gallery focused on the latest and most daring British and American artists such as Peter Blake, Bridget Riley, Richard Hamilton, Gilbert and George, and many others. Fraser was a trendsetter, since the gallery and his flat were hubs for pop stars, artists, writers and other celebrities including The Beatles and The Rolling Stones members, Marianne Faithfull, William Burroughs, Kenneth Anger, and designer Christopher Gibbs. Due to immense popularity, Robert Fraser was even nicknamed Groovy Bob by the writer Terry Southern.
Apparently, Robert Fraser was not only the trendiest person in 1960s London, but also the propagator of Pop Art as a truly modern art movement. In order to honor his immense cultural and social influence, the Gazelli Art House London decided to organize an exhibition entirely focused on Fraser's activity.
Robert Fraser spent a couple of years working in galleries in the United States, and after he got back to England in 1962 he opened the gallery with the help of his wealthy father, who was one of the trustees of Tate gallery. The Robert Fraser Gallery was designed by Cedric Price and was located at 69 Duke Street in London. Interestingly so, in 1966 this exhibition space was legally prosecuted because of a Jim Dine exhibition which was considered indecent, so the works were taken off by the by Scotland Yard and Fraser was charged under a 19th-century law that applied to street beggars. The same year, Fraser financed the Yoko Ono exhibition at the Indica Gallery where she first encountered John Lennon.
In 1967 The Beatles' LP Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was art-directed by Robert Fraser; namely, he convinced the band to change the initial psychedelic design for the collage created by Peter Blake. The curiosity is that the art dealer gave a small René Magritte painting of an apple to Paul McCartney which is considered as inspiration for branding their record company Apple Records. Richard Hamilton was commissioned by Fraser to design the poster for the Beatles' White Album, and he showed the avant-garde works of John Lennon during 1968.
In 1967 the art dealer was present at the party held in the country house of Keith Richards, the famous Rolling Stones member, which was raided by the police and on that occasion, Fraser, Richards and Mick Jagger were arrested for possessing drugs. Although Jagger and Richards were released, Robert Fraser was found guilty and was sentenced to six months of hard labor; after that incident, the gallery business rapidly declined due to his heroin addiction, so he eventually closed it in 1969.
This event is commemorated in the 1968 work Swingeing London 67 by Richard Hamilton. It is a collage made of press clippings about the case, and the portrait of Jagger and Fraser handcuffed together also entitled Swingeing London.
The current exhibition focused on the activity of the respectable London art dealer gathers a selection of works by thirteen acclaimed artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jim Dine, Clive Barker, Derek Boshier, Peter Blake, Brian Clarke, Jean Dubuffet, Bridget Riley, Richard Hamilton, Jann Haworth, Ed Ruscha, Colin Self and Keith Haring.
In order to underline Robert Fraser’s iconic role as a contemporary art patron and a rock and roll fan, the gallery acquired an album to accompany the exhibition, so fourteen songs – one for each artist and one for Groovy Bob were written by David Stephenson. Founder of Gazelli Art House and co-curator Mila Askarova, of the exhibition, explains:
We are celebrating Fraser’s legacy with an exhibition dedicated to Pop Art and the artists he championed. Bringing the rock ‘n’ roll glamour to the gallery space, these works on display, along with the special edition vinyl album, will transport the viewer back to the Swinging Sixties, full of charisma and excitement.
This exhibition is not only delivering outstanding works which reflect the art tendencies of their time and pay homage to Robert Fraser, but it also tells the story of the zeitgeist of the era saturated with various social and political shifts on the global scale.
Robert Fraser's Groovy Arts Club Band will be on display at Gazelli Art House in London until 23rd February 2019.
Featured image: Clive Barker - Three Hand Granades, 1969. Chrome plated bronze, 11.5 x 21.6 x 5 cm (4.53 x 8.5 x 1.97 in) Ed. of 6; Brian Clarke - Manhattan , 2018. Stained glass in wooden frame, 204 x 252 x 4.5 cm (80.32 x 99.21 x 1.77 in); Ed Ruscha - Pews, from News, Mews, Pews, Brews, Stews & Dues, 1970. Screenprint in colours, 58.4 x 81.3 cm (23 x 32 in). Ed. 81 of 125. All images courtesy of Gazelli Art House
London, United Kingdom