Oh! You Pretty Things.

Ever since David Bowie’s airwave-shaking, pre-breakfast announcement that he was releasing a new single last month there’s been a deluge of exhibitions expertly (if not deliberately) timed around his unexpected return.

David Bowie by Terry ONeill 1974, National Portrait Gallery
David Bowie by Terry ONeill 1974, National Portrait Gallery

From the Vinyl Factory’s Nacht Musik display of Bowie vinyl artwork to the V&A’s David Bowie Is, the scene is being set to celebrate not just Bowie, but the performative, the playful and the self-consciously outlandish side of pop he helped to create.

Sprinkling yet another smattering of stardust over the era is Glam! The Performance of Style, a new show opening at the Tate Liverpool today, with graphics and exhibition design by the gallery’s in-house team.

Peter Phillips Esq. Six Times Eight, Dreaming, 1974

Source: Peter Phillips

Peter Phillips Esq. Six Times Eight, Dreaming, 1974

Focusing on the years 1971-75, the show demonstrates the era’s interplay of mass culture and high art – much like Pop Art before it – but with a louche liveliness and a whole heap more gender-bending.

Perhaps surprisingly, this is the first major show to critically evaluate the era. While its miscreant cousin punk’s gobby graphics have graced many an exhibition wall; and the V&A’s 2011 Postmodernism show touched on glam’s high-jinx, the Tate show proves that there’s far more to it than big hair and surreptitiously borrowing your sister’s eyeliner.

It’s interesting to see artists such as Gilbert & George, with their glasses and buttoned-up suits, embraced into the feathers and fur of the movement, alongside the likes of David Hockney and Andy Warhol. But while these are among the most famous artists of the 20th century, like glam, they each have a sense of not taking themselves too seriously.

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, 1970 - 1,  David Hockney

Source: David Hockney

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, 1970 – 1, David Hockney

The Liverpool show features works such as Hockney’s 1971 Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy; and a number of gorgeous photographs by Nan Goldin of her transvestite friends that hint at a darker, more subversive undercurrent to the era.

Nan Goldin, Kenny putting on make up, Boston 1973

Source: Nan Goldin courtesy of Matthew Marks Galler

Nan Goldin, Kenny putting on make up, Boston 1973

Katharina Sieverding’s 1973-4 work Transformer and performance artist Ulay’s self-staged polaroids, which are shown here in their UK debut, further explore the ideas of gender-play and identity inherent to the glam movement.

Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Celebration? 1972 - 2000

Source: Marc Camille Chaimowicz

Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Celebration? 1972 – 2000

Among the highlights of the show is Marc Camille Chaimowicz’s Celebration?– a huge installation of candles, figurines, glitter and glitter balls – displayed with a soundtrack, of course, created by Bowie. For its 2013 incarnation, the artist has updated the work, personally installing it in the Tate Liverpool space.

Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Celebration? 1972 - 2000

Source: Marc Camille Chaimowicz

Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Celebration? 1972 – 2000

Alongside the British artists featured, the exhibition aims to examine how artists from New York pushed the more serious and politically charged undercurrents of glam – the subverting of stereotypes, and the deliberate re-appropriation of ‘trash’ culture and notions of ‘bad taste.’

Peter Hujar  Cockette John Rothermel in a Fashion Pose (Cockette) 1973

Source: © The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC; courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York

Peter Hujar Cockette John Rothermel in a Fashion Pose (Cockette) 1973

Works by artists such as Alan Jones capitalise on materials with an inherent ‘trashy’ quality – feathers, fur and vinyl are themselves the embodiment of artifice, and are utilised to explore ideas of beauty and fleeting fashions, available to be readily satirised, yet also thoroughly enjoyed.

Glam! The Performance of Style runs until 12 May at Tate Liverpool, Albert Dock, Liverpool Waterfront, Liverpool L3

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