Artist David Hockney is both the guiding spirit and social connector behind a smartly engaging exhibition, British Invasion, now on view at MOAH: The Lancaster Museum of Art and History. Featuring the works of 25 British-born artists, the exhibition feels like the work of a cross-cultural autonomous collective. What the artists have in common is simply that they all came to California, perhaps for reasons similar to David Hockney’s. “I was drawn towards California, which I didn’t know,” Hockney once told an interviewer, “because I sensed the place would excite me. No doubt it had a lot to do with sex.”
Speaking of sex, America’s embrace of the original British Invasion of the mid-1960s had quite a bit to do with that as well...
The British Invasion, a cultural phenomenon that brought British rock across the Atlantic to a generation of music-hungry American teenagers, came to a climax on February 9th, 1964. That evening at 8PM an estimated 73 million Americans gathered in front of their mostly black and white TV sets to watch The Beatlesperform five songs. The group’s sheer magnetism—a blend of Continental sex appeal, youthful insouciance and lyric musicality—was potent enough to make America’s patriarchs nervous. The job Elvis had started by shaking his hips—of teaching American teenagers how to shake loose another layer of Puritanical reserve—was being finished by British musicians.
“A lot of people’s fathers had wanted to turn us off,” Paul Mc Cartney later wrote of the Sullivan performance: “They told their kids, ‘Don’t be fooled, they’re wearing wigs.’” Despite their father’s warnings, young Americans went bonkers over The Beatles—soon followed by The Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, The Animalsand The Who—who were the vanguard of a host of “London Swingers” that helped integrate countercultural lifestyles and points of view into the American mainstream. Most Americans were understandably grateful.