The spring exhibition in the Imperial Furniture Collection takes us back to the 1960s. The focus of the exhibition is on furniture design. This is complemented by fashion, televisions, radios and other everyday objects that communicate the feel of life in these years.
The post-war era with its longing for security was over. People were swept by a wave of optimism and the sense of new horizons opening up. Youth subcultures flourished. Pop conquered the world. Anything seemed possible, permissiveness reigned. As the designer Betsey Johnson punchily summarized her memories of the era: ‘Wow! Explode! The Sixties!’. It was a breathless decade, marked by profound social, cultural and aesthetic upheavals. The beginnings of the information age shrank the world to a ‘global village’, speeding up the pace of people’s lives. A ‘messy vitality’ held sway, a new spirit that made itself felt in design and fashion, in bold shapes and iridescent colours.
During the Cuba crisis the world teetered on the brink of a nuclear showdown, the cold war was omnipresent. But none of this could dampen the optimism of the Sixties. In fact, the space race between the superpowers was a source of inspiration for designers, resulting in the creation of utopian, futuristic designs for living.
The exhibition focuses on two of the cultural upheavals that characterised the 1960s: the consumer revolution, stimulated by full employment and rising incomes, and the change of mood in the middle of the decade, when the younger generation rose up to protest against unjust and antiquated systems of power and social constraints, taking an increasingly critical stance towards the materialism of consumer culture.
Both these currents were reflected in contemporary design. The new prosperity led to the emergence of a new class of consumer: teenagers. Informal furniture for casual occasions became popular. The development of new synthetic materials facilitated the making of low-priced products for a youthful mass market. The euphoria engendered by space flight, new technologies and materials was reflected in a geometric vocabulary of forms.
The ‘counter revolution’ in the wake of the Vietnam war, the Prague Spring and the student revolts in Paris also left its mark on design. Neo-organic forms led to a revival of historical styles such as Art Deco and Art Nouveau.
At the beginning of the 1970s the once so dynamic Sixties ran out of steam. Resignation became the predominant spirit of the age, the counter culture imploded, the spirit of innocent optimism was lost for good. The boom of the post-war era that had underpinned 1960s design came to an end, giving way to an economic recession.