Punk n. (etym. uncertain) 1. a prostitute (obs.). 2. Slang, U.S. a. a catamite b. a male homosexual c. a young gangster or hoodlum d. any person, especially a youngster, regarded as inexperienced, insignificant, etc. - (adj) Slang, U.S. Very poor; bad; inferior; also miserable; in poor health.
By Alice Denney
Once again it seems appropriate for the Washington Project for the Arts to publish a catalogue which deals with the social and visual phenomena of the "Now.' Looking for something which was current for our spring exhibition it seemed pertinent to explore the PUNK movement. It was a happy accident that Marc Miller and Bettie Ringma had already been involved with CBGB and we decided to put on this exhibition together.
Many tapes of interviews were made, much music listened to, magazines read and historians interviewed. This exhibition represents the first exploration of its kind. It may be a hype, a put-on, or Dada, but that is for the public to decide. One of the responsibilities of a contemporary art center is to explore these art movements as they relate to art history and society.
The early seventies seem to have lost the excitement of the sixties and it is strange to see that PUNK surfaced as the most energetic and visible art form challenged only by feminism and decorative art.
All serious people seem to have a good sense of nonsense, as opposed to earnest people, who don't know what to make of nonsense. Today, there are too many earnest people in the arts and not enough serious people.
- British actor George Rose
This exhibition could not have been possible without the contributions of the WPA staff, Pamela Zulli-Ziegenfuss and Mark Gulezian. Bruce Weber helped with the editing. Jerry Silk researched the antecedents. Norma Lamberson and Alan Moore transcribed hours of text from the tapes and Elizabeth French and Jean Gilbert spent days typing. We also are grateful to Clarissa Wittenberg, Mary Swift, and Robert St. John and the Washington Review for their professional contributions.
By Jerry Silk
Destruction is creation.
- Mikhael Bakunin
Nihilism has appeared among us because we are all nihilists.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky
(Essay Excerpt One)
Courbet found that the portrayal of sexual taboos such as lesbianism could shock the art audience, or when he realized that art itself was a somewhat anemic form of political revolt, he took to the streets, participating in the destruction of the Vendôme column, an act which resulted in his imprisonment. Courbet therefore established subversion, negation, and provocation both as viable components of art and as a crucial current within the development of modernism. In this venture into virgin and possibly hostile artistic territory and in discovering that such territory could be fertile ground for artistic exploration, Courbet pioneered the idea of the avant-garde, an appellation originally applied to military scouts who probed unknown regions to determine whether this area could be safely entered by the troops behind. Since Courbet, the troops have poured in.
(Essay Excerpt Two)
Briefly stated, Punk or New Wave Rock, with its driving beat, simple and brash harmonics, and high volume levels, attempts to re-connect with the roots of rock 'n roll. Present-day popular music has simply become too pseudo-sophisticated, too mellow, and too palatable. Punk injects potent doses of supercharged energy into music, cutting through the lush overproductions of pop music with primordial rock 'n roll fundamentals.
In this return to basics, some critics have suggested that Punk parallels minimal art, a movement equally concerned with simplified modes of expression. However, this evaluation misfires, because it is precisely the silence and lack of assertiveness of seventies art that punk is reacting against. Punk lyrics, often advocating anachy and violence, and punk performance, invariably aggressive in nature, are hardly akin to the contemplative or spiritual or platonic aspirations of so much of minimal art.
It is rather a new breed of artists, many of whom gravitated to the Punk scene, feeding off the energy emanating from such New Wave hangouts at CBGBs (the new Cabaret Voltaire?), whose work displays affinities with a New Wave sensibility. And while at this moment in time, it would be presumptuous to christen a Punk Art movement, the energy, chaos, anarchy, violence, and egotism of much contemporary art suggests links with Punk.
By Billy Klüver
BK: I was sitting in Max's the other day and someone told me that you are the hero of the Punks, Andy. Everyone is reading your books.
VH: Well that's not Punk, that's Pop. Popsicles. I had a party and this Punk girl came to the party. She cut herself because that was her sculpture.
AW: Oh, yeah. There was this beautiful girl and she just cut her wrists right at Victor's party because nothing was happening.
VH: No, she wanted it to happen and so she did it. But that is too bad because she cannot sell that. She has impressed people but she doesn't get any money for it. Just a little publicity. Fame and no money.
AW: And a few cuts.
BK: Is that what Punk is about? Fame and no money?
AW: I think the Punk artists would be those people who were the graffiti people in the subways. So what else can I say about Punk?
BK: Everyone thinks that you started Punk.
AW: No. We just knew a few drag queens. I guess that's what did it, right? Yeah, a few drag queens did it. Brigid use to be fat, now she's punk.
BK: Do you have a Punk artist that you like particularly?
AW: Well, just the rock groups. And I like... actually I like them all. Patti Smith is really terrific and Blondie is great and Richard Hell. Lou Reed - I think Lou is sort of changing but I think he was one of the first that did it really well. Are there going to be some Punk groups down there?
AW: Oh great. Great.
BK: Who call themselves Punk artists?
AW: I don't know but I think the Punk artists would be those people who were the graffiti people in the subways. And the thing that Mr. Copley has in his dining room. Have you ever seen that?
BK: Oh, yes. Yes.
AW: Isn't that great? I mean commissioning these kids to come in and then they came back and they ripped him off three or four times.
BK: Oh really?
AW: Oh, yeah. After he just found these kids who were doing subway art and then they'd come back and they'd run out with the TV or something like that.
BK: An empty room.
AW: Yes, an empty room with all that graffiti on it.
Punk Art Exhibition Catalogue
Copyright © April 23, 1978, Miller & Ringma and Washington Project for the Arts.