Space, Speed, Sex - Works from the early 1960s
15th November - 8th December 2006
Space, Speed, Sex was a major retrospective of work from 1962 to 1969 by pop art pioneer, Gerald Laing. Two exhibitions ran concurrently: a loan exhibition of 25 paintings and drawings was held at Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert, and a selling exhibition of the artist's prints to include graphic works and multiples held at Sims Reed Gallery. Both exhibitions demonstrated Laing's acute engagement with popular culture of the time and reinforced the artist's reputation as a major contributor to the 1960s pop scene, a reputation which has, in the past, been overlooked.
The show captured the diversity of Laing's artistic output during this period, ranging from earliest works (1962-63) and his engagement with French mass media images of femme fatales, Brigitte Bardot (1963) and Anna Karina (1963) to his later series influenced by American popular culture, including astronauts, skydivers, bikini girls and dragster racing. The two exhibitions presented an unprecedented opportunity to view the artist's prints alongside his paintings and set up an interesting dialogue between the different mediums.
Gerald Laing (b 1936, Newcastle-upon-Tyne) was a student at St Martin's School of Art from 1960 to 1964 and some of his best known images were painted while still at art school. In 1963 Laing held his first exhibition at St Martin's entitled Paintings of Photographs/Photographs of Paintings in which he exhibited Brigitte Bardot (1962) for the first time, a painting which has since become one of the most enduring pop images of the 20th century.
During his first trip to New York in 1963 he met Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Jim Rosenquist, who were themselves just emerging as important artists. He spent that summer working for Robert Indiana in his loft on Coenties Slip and on the strength of this he was invited to work and exhibit in New York straight after leaving art school, where he spent the rest of the 1960s, painting and exhibiting frequently, virtually as an American artist.
In 1964 Laing held his first one-man show in New York at Richard L. Feigen & Co, a gallery which specialised in showing the work of British pop artists. For the remainder of the 1960s he showed regularly in Feigen's three galleries in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Laing was invited to show at the American pavilion at the 1967 São Paolo Biennale in Brazil and it was during this period that the Whitney Museum of American Art acquired one of his works, thus categorising him at that time as an American artist.
For Laing, the perfected images of subjects exclusive to American popular, often suburban, culture - such as stars and starlets, drag racers, astronauts and skydivers - embodied an iconic individuality which flourished under the aegis of the American Dream, a dream which was sustained only until the nemesis of the late 1960s demonstrated its fragility.