British Art & the 60s from Tate Britain explores new departures in the form and content of art in Britain from 1956 to 1968. This was a period of seismic change in Britain and in British culture. The art of the period both reflected and participated in the social revolution that became mythologised as the ‘Swinging Sixties’.
As Britain emerged from the 1950s, its art demonstrated an extraordinary degree of innovation and diversity. The exhibition includes a wide range of objects that demonstrate the new practices and imagery explored by artists. It seeks to blur the divisions that have been drawn between different types of work, to bring together well-known artists and others whose reputations have survived less well, and to show both celebratory and more critical forms of art. It was during this period that the aesthetics and ideals of the immediate post-war period were seen and felt to be changing the face of Britain and its culture. In terms of wider historical events, the period is framed by the Suez Crisis and the political unrest leading to the events of 1968; culturally it spans from the first release of Elvis Presley in Britain to the rise of Psychedelia.
The exhibition ends at the moment when the less idealistic realities of much of this change were recognised and when a cultural backlash reacted against many of the new practices and liberations that had developed from the late 1950s onwards. The myths and reality of ‘The Sixties’ and of ‘Swinging London’ are the backdrop to the exhibition and a key aspect is its exploration of the interchange between high art and the wider culture. It examines, for example, the representations of sexuality and of celebrity that appeared in both painting and photography and places the artworks in the context of the lively visual culture of the period, exploring pop art’s relationship to innovations in design, television, advertising and packaging.