Paradise lost

With an exhibition of rare and iconic 1960s graphics set to open in London, John Stones reflects on a bygone, yet influential era

The 1960s seem to provide an inexhaustible treasure chest of ideas to be plundered, particularly when it comes to fashion, interiors, music and, naturally, graphics.

So, as an adjunct to its Sixties Fashion show, the Victoria & Albert Museum is holding a smaller exhibition dedicated to the graphics of the now over-mythologised ‘Swinging Sixties’. As well as iconic pieces, there are some rare and unusual images to titillate the visual palate.

They show that the 1960s were busy plundering other sources themselves, but perhaps that word is a slightly pejorative term for the influences of Art Nouveau and Surrealism on the graphics of the era. Reinterpretation, rather than recycling, is perhaps how one could describe it.

Much like the vogue for Modernism, which is fuelled by another exhibition currently showing at the V&A, the influence is primarily stylistic – the deeper political and social currents informing the work are an eon away from our present situation. While our lives and surroundings are, to a great extent, informed by retro-pilfering from the last century, politically we are still very much in thrall to the legacy of the Reagan/Thatcher era.

Design and other creative production may struggle to re-establish the link between the social and the aesthetic, but the graphics themselves remain as gorgeous as ever. But the pleasure they offer is now laced by the melancholy realisation of their status as markers of a vanished world.

Sixties Graphics runs until 12 November at the Victoria & Albert Musuem, Cromwell Road, London SW7

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