Punk in Amsterdam

Compared to the ambitious "Punk Art Show" that Bettie Ringma and I organized in Washington DC, the show at Art Something in Amsterdam was tiny and consisted almost entirely of publications, posters and cheap multiples. Yet to our amazement the publicity we received in Holland nearly matched our American coverage. The newspaper Parool led the way by devoting the full front page of its art section to the exhibition. Under the headline "Punk Art Screams for Attention," there was an interview with Bettie and me, and an article about Karen Kvernenes who owned Art Something, formerly Ulises Carrion’s artist bookstore "Other Books and So."

American Punk Art show invite
American Punk Art invite, June 1-23, 1979
Punk Art Screams for Attention, Parool, June 8, 1979
"Punk Art Screams for Attention," Parool, June 8, 1979
Bettie Ringma and Marc H. Miller on their Houseboat
Bettie Ringma and Marc H. Miller on their Houseboat
Karen Kvernenes in Front of art work at Art Something
Karen Kvernenes in Front of art work at Art Something

The reviews for "American Punk Art" were plentiful but negative. In the prestigious Museum Journaal, feminist art historian Rosa Lindenburg lambasted the show as "macho art." The reaction of Amsterdam’s punk community was even worse. The show reflected the spirit of New York Punk which differed considerably from the angrier working class Punk aesthetic evolving in England and Europe. Our cavalier dismissal in Parool of punk in the Netherlands sealed our fate, and the following day we were greeted with a threatening note tacked to the door of Art Something. Written on the back of a flyer for Galler!e Anus it was apparently the work of Diana Ozon and Hugo Kaagman who is now celebrated as the "Dutch Godfather of Stencil Graffiti."

An anonymous letter tacked to the door of Art Something.
An anonymous letter tacked to the door of Art Something.
The back of the letter advertises Galler!e Anus the storefront run by Diana Ozon and Hugo Kraagman.
The back of the letter advertises Galler!e Anus the storefront run by Diana Ozon and Hugo Kraagman.

The review that stung the most was by Gerard Pas in Artzien. A young Canadian of Dutch descent, Gerard moved easily between the "serious" artists at De Appel and the Punks at Galler!e Anus. He was our first friend in Amsterdam but his negative review caused a temporary estrangement. Back then, Gerard’s art was based on anger about having contracted polio as a child and on his experiences as the polio poster child in Canada. He cultivated a punkish style and did performances that included vomit. Gerard could easily be labeled a Punk artist but his art was not rooted in any superficial trend but in his sincere need to express his own personal pain. It was perhaps his self-awareness of such contradictions that led him to write a jarring review that dismissing "American Punk Art" as the work of self-serving hypesters. It contained more than an ounce of truth and it still resonates (and hurts) today.

Gerard Pas, Amsterdam, 1977-78
Gerard Pas, Amsterdam, 1977-78
Gerard Pas in the Performance Kunstledem aten, at De Appel, Amsterdam, 1978
Gerard Pas in the Performance "Kunstledem aten," at De Appel, Amsterdam, 1978

"Gerard would eat this cake on which is written ARTificial Limbs. While eating he told the story of his life as an artist and as a handicapped individual until he vomited. This was at the point where only the word Kunst (Art) was left on the cake. He then continued to eat the remainder of the cake with the slime and vomit covering it until it was done."

Artzien, June 1979
Artzien, June 1979

"This brings us to the reason for this criticism and that is the "American Punk Art" exhibition. I believe that the premises of such an exhibition are quite justified although I find that the way in which this collection of material has been compiled under the title "American Blah Blah" is truly facinorous and that they who have been involved in expressing the product of their labour over the last years would be saddened by the lapidiculous manner in which their works have been handled by the organizers whose names fill the pages of Het Parool and invitations with false information like a thanatoid cloud of media manipulation and hype truly illustrating the ignorance of a mark being taken by the con-man. ...I might begin by saying that the use of the title American Punk Art could be compared to that of a K-Tel production and I feel safe to say that American Punk Art only exists in the offices of such a company. I believe that the integrity of many of the artists represented such as Diego Cortez, Beth B., Scott B., John Holmstrom, Ruth Marten, Marcia Resnick, Alan Suicide, Arturo Vega, and Tina L’Hotsky has been undermined, as their works go much deeper and wider than any label could define, except that of New York Contemporaries..."

- Excerpted from Gerard Pas, "The Great Art Swindle???," Artzien, June 1979