Friday, September 28, 2012

Someday all the Adults will Die!: Punk Graphics 1971-84

'Some day all the adults will die!: punk graphics 1971-1984' is a free exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London, on until 4th November 2012.

I wonder sometimes whether anything else useful can be said about punk, feels like we have been reliving that moment endlessly for the last 30 years. Ageing collapses time in unexpected ways. At school in the late 1970s and reading about May 1968 it felt as remote to me as the First World War. Now the late 1970s feel not so far away, even if the equivalent of this exhibition in 1977 would have been a show about early 1940s style. So an exhibition like this is essentially a kind of nostalgia for some ('ooh I've got that original 7 inch of Scritti Politti's Hegemony') and ancient history for others.  

The exihibition, curated by Jon Savage and Johan Kugelberg, is less a coherent take on graphics and more a very good collection of memoribilia - zines, flyers and record sleeves. But in subtle ways it does undermine some simplistic versions of the punk story.

After Greil Marcus's Lipstick Traces, everyone knows about the parallels between Situationist attitude/style (if not always politics) and some strands of punk, but the exhibition shows this directly with some material from that milieu such as a King Mob poster from the late 1960s:

Likewise, and contrary to the notion of punk as a straightforward negation of the preceding period, the influence of the pre-punk UK counter culture (Oz magazine etc.) is acknowledged: 'design forerunners included the proto-pop mail art movement, counter-culture protest graphics and the underground press of the 1960s'.

The exhibition gives space to the American punk scene, with its parallel but distinct aesthetic. Who knew that Wayne County's backing band in 1976 was the Back Street Boys? Surely more interesting than the later outfit with the same name.

It recognises that punk in the UK was about much more than The Clash and The Sex Pistols, and gives due recognition to anarcho-punk - including Crass's graffiti stencils:

There are some interesting radical perspectives on music, including a remarkable flyer given out when The Rolling Stones played at the Hollywood Bowl in 1966 that hallucinates the band's music as some kind of radical rallying cry: 'Greetings and welcome Rolling Stones, our comrades in the desperate battle against the maniacs who hold power. The revolutionary youth of the world hears your music and is inspired to ever more deadly acts... We will play your music in rock'n'roll marching bands as we tear down the jails and free the prisoners'.

Less optimistic/tongue in cheek is an earnest critique of The Clash, put out by Art in Revolution in Holland in  the late 1970s: ''London's buying your crap... this is what is left of the '77 punx, a bunch of junkies and a bunch of drunks'

The zines on display are frustrating as they are behind plastic so you can only look at the covers when really you want to flick through them. The record sleeves are evocative, but you really want to listen to the music (though some of this is being played in the exhibition). The flyers and posters though don't hold anything back, or nothing that can be accessed now. They simply record a series of singular moments in history:. 

Manchester 1977: 'Punk rock rules!' at The Squat with The Drones, Warsaw (later Joy Division) and others - interesting discussion about this poster here

Los Angeles 1979: The Last and The Go-Go at Gazzarri's on Sunset Strip

Crass at Acklam Hall, Portobello Road, September 1979

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