Exhibition Review: GT 400 (New Bloomsbury Set, London) | So So Gay

This month see’s GT (Gay Times) publish their 400th issue in its 37-year history. To celebrate, they have put on an exhibition looking at the magazine from its origins as HIM, including some of the most memorable covers and groundbreaking articles.

Some of the covers indeed range from the striking to the iconic, and there are many articles that concern landmark moments in UK LGBT history over the past four decades, as well as contributions and interviews with celebrities and prominent personalities.

Some standout pieces include Stephen Fry’s letter to himself, an opinion piece from 1997 looking at the prospect of LGBT rights under a New Labour government, the cover commemorating the bombing of the Admiral Duncan in Soho in 1999, a provocative and titillating porn issue cover, and the infamous interview with David Cameron. Also on display is a suit jacket made from GT covers by Saville Row tailor, Sir Tom Baker.

While a definite sense of severity across the exhibition is fitting, given the subject of many of the articles, some may find this isn’t balanced enough by more light hearted material, such as the interview with Kylie Minogue, or the cover featuring celebrated late comedian Kenny Everett. Also, while what’s on display is interesting, it’s perhaps a bit too concise. There’s a sense that the exhibition could really be more comprehensive if space allowed, which would make for a more fulfilling experience.

It’s brilliant to see that GT have chosen The New Bloomsbury Set in central London to host the exhibition, keeping the milestone event within, and supporting, the community. The bar itself is a So So Gay favourite and was declared Best Bar last year in our Best of So So Gay 2010.

However, it’s the venue that lets the exhibition down. The dim lighting and furniture in the way of some pieces makes it quite difficult to read some of the articles on display. It’s slightly awkward to inspect Sir Elton John’s penmanship while looming over a couple enjoying their drinks, or meander around crowded tables to catch a glimpse of all there is to offer. Being an informal social space, the covers and articles themselves could well be no more than decorative wallpaper. Given the saliency and potency of many of the displays, this is almost an injustice.

Yet this really is not only an important exhibition, but a fascinating one at that. It would be great to see this tour to other cities in the UK, and/or move to a more formal art venue to really give it the stance and status that it deserves. But despite the drawbacks of the current venue, it’s still a must for anyone interested in LGBT history, and a kaleidoscopic eye-opener for everyone else.

GT 400 is on display at The New Bloomsbury Set, London, WC1N 1AG, until 30 November 2011. Entrance is free. For more information about the exhibition, visit www.gaytimes.co.uk.

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