Sunday, 10 January 2010


With only two weeks left of the Beatles To Bowie: The 60s Exposed at the National Portrait Gallery, if you’re thinking of going, you’d better get your ice-skates on. But is it any good? Is it worth it? Yes and no. Or rather, sort of and maybe not.

What’s on offer are photographic portraits (and they are all portraits) of British hit makers, shown a year at a time, from scrubbed pop starlets of 1960 through to dishevelled rock stars of 1969. This gives an opportunity to check the swift changes in fashion and photography through the decade. Not that you and I, dear MonkeyPicker, need this, and the exhibition is clearly not aimed at those who’d prefer to see the Action outside the Buttery or the Smoke on The Beat Club. So, by and large, it is the portraits you’d expect in a major gallery, accompanied by a bargain bucket of cheapo memorabilia tacked to each year. If you’re going to pick one “iconic” (hate that word) shot of the Who, which would it be? Probably the Observer Union Jack jacket shot by Colin Jones. Marianne Faithfull? Draped over the seats in the Salisbury pub by Gered Mankowitz. Jagger? Fur hood by David Bailey. They’re all here. Which begs the question what is being “exposed” that’s not already frequently on the surface? Not much, but I’m happy enough to gaze at Dusty, Sandie, Julie, and admire the shoes of Steampacket, the Manfreds, Animals, Yardbirds (above by Mankowitz) etc; like I’d be happy enough to hear “Tin Soldier” on the pub jukebox. If I wanted something deeper I wouldn’t go the NPG or the pub.

Whether you consider it “worth it” depends on the value you put on eleven pounds. To pay eleven quid to see stuff for the umpteenth time is steep. For the less initiated it is reasonable(ish) value for the size of it (for them there London prices like). I was heartened by a girl of around seven correctly identifying The Kinks being played in the background, and a young mum and daughter getting excited by the sheet music to “Pictures of Lily”. Sod the National History Museum; this is the way to bring up kids.

What did get my goat was being asked to donate to the purchase of two Robert Whitaker photographs of the Beatles used in the exhibition. Hang on, you just lightened my pocket by over a tenner. Don’t the National Portrait Gallery have enough Beatles crap already? What about Mr Whitaker donating his precious fucking pictures to a public gallery, the tight shit?

Beatles To Bowie: The 60s Exposed is at the National Portrait Gallery until 24 January 2010, admission £11. Should you want the book, it’ll set you back another £30.

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