From Deutsche Bank with Love: Summer of Love at Palais Populaire
(Berlin.) Summer of Love at Deutsche Bank owned Palais Populaire promises to portray an era, a year, or only some months back in 1967 that sought to change Western society forever, and in parts even succeeded. Consequentially, it treats on all sorts of protest movements that were linked to the “Summer of Love” (it was not exclusively about loving something – and many –bodies - new, but also about hating everything else, those two always go hand in hand). Doesn’t it seem fitting then, how my bus trip to the preview on a hot and sunny mid-June day was stopped short by a group of protestors several hundred metres away from Palais Populaire on the long and historic avenue that is "Unter den Linden"? Alighting, I followed the march from a distance which did not appear very threatening, but rather tame and contained. As we were passing by a branch of Deutsche Bank, a group of employees standing in the doorway cheered on the protestors, whose banners I still couldn’t read and there were no speeches, only the stomping bass of badly produced electronic music - the tourists around probably believed in a failed revival of the Love Parade. Quickening my steps as I overtook the protestors, I realised at length what this was all about, or against: Banks. Many banners of a clerks’ trade union and some almost apologetic slogans: “We are no millionaires!”. Being employed by a bank, you need to add this when taking to the streets I guess. Other banners merely identified their bearers, among them Deutsche Bank. I half regretted a police van marking the trek’s turning point in some distance from Palais Populaire still - a riot would have been fun, but why should they cause disturbance to a bank’s art show about historic protest movements, paid by funds that - some would say - could equally be employed to pay an investment banker’s next premium ... No, for raising clerks’ salaries of course! But marketing budget and labour costs are entirely different things, and being art heads, we certainly won’t complain about Palais Populaire and its activities!
Having briefly confused the Berlin opera for Palais Populaire and searched in vain for the entrance that should have been somewhere on the side, the time warp could finally begin. In the front yard, a 1960s Volkswagen bus, painted in all groovy colours as the stereotype, and historic exactitude, demands and generously provided by Volkswagen AG attracts curious pedestrians and no protestors (let’s just ignore that thing’s carbon footprint...). There’s also a Tony Cragg sculpture, which appears to be freshly installed – a leftover of that recent British Sculpture show? And are that Tibetan prayer flags "blowin' in the wind"?!
Summer of Love is a show about the past, which doesn't prevent its being presented in a thoroughly modern way, Palais Populaire particularly emphasises a dedicated hashtag on Facebook-for-illiterates – sorry, Instagram is the name!, to collect selfies from the exhibition (and user profiles, too?). Settled in the cafeteria, surrounded by prints from James Rosenquist and others, provided with coffee and rhubarb cake (it really pays to get invited to those press events, I’m telling you!) some speakers then engaged in explaining the exhibition’s goals and concept.
What would you expect to see on his occasion? Sex, drugs, and R’n’R (for the private banking clients among you: that’s “Rock’n’Roll”, not “Rolls-Royce”)? It must have taken a marketing hack considerate time to come up with a slightly different slogan for the show - it does have one indeed: “Art, Fashion, and Rock’n’Roll”. Spot the odd one out. ... “Fashion”?! Really? It was about fashion? Or did they mean “a” fashion? Now, that would be kind of smart... Palais Populaire is actually not responsible for the slogan that pre-existed the Berlin show and was already in use for the premiere at San Francisco’s de Young Museum two years ago (in time for the 50th anniversary of '67). Over the great pond, they still called it the “Summer of Love Experience”, but Deutsche Bank PR probably vetoed this... (“Are you experienced?” did not refer to asset classes). “All deadheads head to Deutschbank” would have been a formidable slogan, too, and even reflect the art world’s anti-bankism!
In case you wonder what ties exist between a bank shaken by scandal and controversy (well, that’s unfair: all banks are, and still indispensable) and the Summer of Love: Arguably the biggest mark that movement has left on American society is the forming of today’s Silicon Valley elites - who would not know about Steve Job’s much marketed hippie youth, Bill Gates’ early LSD experiments? A vast majority of those active then, later settled quite comfortably in life, embracing all the evil materialist lifestyle they were once denouncing. Might be the drugs’ long term effects, what was that saying again: “If you remember the Seventies, ...”. It wouldn’t be astonishing to find the contact between both institutions having been established by some member of the board at the one, with a business account or another IPO in the making at the other.
One more thing before we start: No, there’s not a single work by Yoko Ono in the show. That's reassuring, right? Oh, and of course: your place of choice for any “bed-/love-ins” should still be KitKat Club, not Palais Populaire!
In the beginning is music, a brief introduction on the wall is titled “The Dock of the Bay” and indeed cites Otis Redding who “settled and wrote lyrics” in San Francisco in the beginning of that summer. This should strike you as odd, if you know the song which, telling about an unemployed negro man whose hopes of a better life at the Frisco bay than in his native Georgia have all failed, is depressive af, and has nothing to do with love and peace. The show then delivers on everything the slogan promised - clothes, music and merchandise, some art. Let’s talk about the fashion first: It’s everywhere, mannequins dressed in “hippie” style, yet it was all done by professionals, up and coming designers, and accordingly appears “finished”, commercial, catwalk- and boutique-ready. No hand- and home(less-)made DIY rags here, those dresses might have been among the first obvious signs of decline, of a commercialisation that ultimately led into art institutions and banks. As a general rule, when a movement becomes fashion, the cause is lost. - Correct me, if I ‘m wrong, but wasn’t that super cheesy “Coming to San Francisco” song also loathed by those who’d been there all along? Sell-out and professionalization taking over the reins, it seems unavoidable in hindsight.
Fashion leads to design, which borders on art. Janis Joplin’s purse is here, custom made - so in the end a regular Mercedes-Benz would not have been enough, and she’d preferred a unique prototype?! We’re led to discover the era’s fabled visual language in concert posters and record covers next to dedicated artworks. Some of them reveal more than others the links to art nouveau and - deco, that contemporaries were already aware of (we’re served a quote from Time Magazine to that effect). As regards pure art, we don't see many famous, emblematic, works, they have no LOVE for visitors... (no Robert Indiana, but many Indians – er: American natives on photos), but a little bit of Fluxus and a Light Art room designed by Bill Bacon, no: Ham’s the name, Bill Ham! That one’s quite trippy, but it feels as if something were amiss, something..., well what could have possibly intensified the experience back then, something about set and setting? Also some cartoons, but if you want to be nit-picking, go and mourn the omission of Robert Crumb.
Overall, the show is a biopic, a documentary, a historic exhibition, with a lot of papers and photos, and it unavoidably covers politics past and present, too. So many good causes, many of which are completely forgotten today – no, DDT was not the 70’s gluten, but rather serious (a protest poster by Rupert - not Jerry! - Garcia). A TV documentary features another legendary JFK speech, if he'll be remembered for only one thing other than his assassination, it’s his oratory skills - he was gifted!: “Don’t ask what your country can do for you...”, followed by interpretation and interviews. A popular continuation today would be “...but leave, and migrate” instead of “but ask, what you can do for your country”, which brings us to Martin Luther King and the Black Panthers who are present as well, for example in another poster of that same Rupert Garcia: “Down With the Whiteness!”. Oh, and apparently there was some war, somewhere in Southeast Asia, ... Vietnam it was! Cannot say, people in charge did not draw the best conclusions from the PR debacle – Abolish general conscription and trust in a professional standing army. Now it’s their effin’ job to die, and everyone's happy.
Portrait photos of artists, stars, and activists by Herb Green complement the show, and there’s even a small library for the odd “read-in” (did they say that? everything was an “-in”, right?) with works from Leary to Castañeda and Ginsberg to Brautigan, most only in German translation.
Kennedy reappears with another quote in a collage of war scenes and that peace symbol (by a certain “Gar Smith, active 1967” – whatever happened to him later?): “War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today”. Sounds legit. All through the Sixties and Seventies, people continued in the Beatniks’ footsteps, but where Kerouac and Cassady were still fine with travelling back and forth between East and West Coast, the Hippie Trail reached all the way to India and the Golden Triangle, motivated by curiosity and a longing for different lifestyles, cultures, and religions (those still existed in much larger degree before global “equality” took over). Often, the trips and travels then continued in less physical form and under the guidance of - North or South – American native medicine men (sorry, no -women, it were savage times, indeed) or Siberian shamans, in this also following the precursors (the Yage Letters date from ‘63). Those however who took the studies seriously, found themselves in constant danger of encountering more complex systems of thought and belief than the average John Lennon song offered.
Digression: Did you ever watch Lian Lunson’s 2005 concert film/documentary about the – from a today’s pov extremely right wing - Leonard Cohen? It features the great poet and singer paraphrasing the Baghavad Gita in these terms: “There is a beautiful moment in the Bahgavad Gita, Arjuna (...) the great general, he’s standing in his chariot and all of the chariots are rallied for war, and across the valley, he sees his opponents, and there he sees not only uncles and aunts and cousins, he sees gurus, he sees teachers that have taught him (...), he sees them, and Krishna, one of the expressions of the deity, says to him, ’you will never untangle the circumstances that brought you to this moment, you know you’re a warrior, arise now, mighty warrior, with the full understanding they have already been killed, and so have you, this is just a play, this is my will, you’re caught up in the circumstances that I determined for you, that you did not determine for yourself. So arise, you’re a noble warrior, embrace your destiny, your fate, and stand up and do your duty.’“ Has a point too, methinks (being all but an expert in Hinduism). But maybe JFK’s “distant day” has come and gone billions of times already.
Before hashtags and tweets, there were T-Shirts, and before that badges to let the world take part in your political views and sense of humour. Palais Populaire shows a large collection as well as an installation in the staircase, where even more appear to be raining down on you. Could be used for advertising, too... Hey, wait a minute! Hidden in the attic, visitors may create their own badges to put on their jeans jack- ok nobody’s wearing those anymore. But there might be a revival soon – it’s retro, it’s vintage! I asked a person in charge for DB’s current claim, which after a short reflection he told me were #PositiveImpact. Trying to put that on a badge, I failed miserably – a badge printing machine is harder to operate that you would think!
They could use this show for inspiration to a new claim, something like “Banking with Love”, or could that lead to misunderstandings - we don’t want every common pimp to open a business account at DB, do we?... They’ve had enough troubles with money laundering already! (And wasn't there a claim with "passion" before?)
Which leads us to the larger picture, and the question whether this exhibition marks the final step of what you could call the prostitution of a movement. The efforts to establish continuities with today are obvious, and we really don't live the “Age of Aquarius”. Banks and Corporations are the first to profit from a certain, one-sided, interpretation of the 1960s/’70s, translating “equality” into one global target group, one demographics - it provides much savings potential. There was something else once too, less materialist. The quest for meaning beyond cold and boring, “rational-scientific” Nihilism that politicians, researchers, and activists are selling us for the ultimate truth everyday now, a longing for spirituality and other-worldliness that seems totally lost on the digital age, even in theory. Yet, everybody, black, white, yellow, m/f/d opening an account at Deutsche Bank or a competitor, and everybody buying the same Silicon Valley sourced products - that's much more appealing to the masses.
After all, even that title, or programme, has become debatable today – we certainly do “know”, there is no such thing as "love", but only temporary business relations. Should that not better be called “Climate catastrophe of an illusory phantasy once instrumental for misogynist oppression”?
And don’t drink the Cool Aid.
Summer of Love, 20 June-28 October 2019, Palais Populaire
World of Arts Magazine – Contemporary Art Criticism
P.S.: Should anybody care to know, the most hippie “artwork” I’ve personally ever seen is that "cult" 1970s Alice in Wonderland porn musical. Yep, that’s what it is. And it was probably produced by the mafia. You should watch it once, but preferably not sober.