Swinging London Comes Back to Life at Pace London in Show Honoring Robert Fraser
A show dedicated to legendary art dealer captures the effervescence of an era.
Many know Robert Fraser from the iconic photograph that shows him handcuffed to Mick Jagger, in a police van, after a court hearing on drug charges. Reproduced by Richard Hamilton in Swinging London 67, the image has come to define a crucial period in Britain’s cultural history. Pop Art exploded. The Rolling Stones and The Beatles invented the concept of rock star. European youth finally broke free.
Fraser was an instrumental figure of the era. A tastemaker and dandy whose parties were infamous all over the country, the London art dealer championed American artists such as Claes Oldenburg and Ellsworth Kelly, as well as a string of British luminaries: Hamilton, Gilbert & George, Peter Blake, are but a few. He’s even said to have been the one who introduced Blake and Jann Haworth to The Beatles, leading to that Sgt. Pepper album cover. After a long break mainly spent in India in the 1970s, he reopened his gallery in the 1980s. “The art world at the time was really tired,” once said his friend, the artist Brian Clarke. “Nothing was really happening. But the feeling was, if anything was going to happen, it would be at 21 Cork Street.”
Pace London is now paying homage to Fraser with a spectacular exhibition conceived by Clarke. “Robert was very important to me, so I wanted to do a portrait of him,” he told artnet News. “I regret not doing one,” he added, listing the many artists who did, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Larry Rivers and Jim Dine. “This exhibition is finally my portrait of him.”
Held in the gallery’s grand Burlington Gardens space, A Strong Sweet Smell of Incense borrows its title from the police report on the party at Keith Richards’s house that led to the photographed 1967 drug bust. It’s a celebratory gathering, including pieces by Kenneth Anger, Oldenburg, Eduardo Paolozzi, Keith Haring, Dennis Hopper, and Robert Mapplethorpe. Several works by Francis Bacon, of whose estate Clarke is sole executer, are also included—as well as a recreation of Fraser’s gallery, featuring his real desk and lamp. There’s David Hockney’s The Most Beautiful Boy in the World (1960), Andy Warhol’s Silver Cloud (1966), and Blake’s Drum Majorette (1969).
“All the works here were keys for me that unlocked doors leading from poetic prisons, and let me out into the fresh air,” explained Clarke, whose work is also presented, both in the show itself and in a separate solo exhibition upstairs. “The choices represent memories to me of the madness and eclectic genius that was Robert. The selection is largely subjective—triggers of memories that remind me of his energy and personality.”
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