Warning: This is not the Alexander McQueen show. I don’t think I have ever attended an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that struck me as hardly realised and shallowly researched as this one is. I suppose even the Met has its moments of disappointment amongst all their outstanding shows. I want to start by saying “Please try again and redeem yourself,” as this era follows the revolutionary 1960s of free love, anti-war, and the flower child.
PUNKS are the children of the phobic and conflicted baby boomers who valiantly paved the way for this next historic interlude. The 70s and 80s are jagged and strident like a nail striking out on a blackboard; as Johnny Rotten’s lyrics testify in “Anarchy in the UK, “I am the Anti-Christ.”
PUNK speaks to the sadomasochistic tendencies of the ID and the EGO with its safety pins and studded sexually charged generation. The metaphor speaks tomes. From this era The Sex Pistols and The Clash exploded like an acidic bomb erupting from inside a black bowling ball.
Behind a glass window is a re-creation of the grunge toilet at CBGB. Punk bands, The Dead Boys, The Diodes and The Motels along with other scrawled names adorn the bathroom walls. Okay, so does the toilet express the angsty vibration of a generation and what they were about? If I were 25 would I get it? Maybe, or is today’s subculture too above-ground to get the garbage of their forefathers, or is it a case of just the dirty toilets left behind without much context? Some may say the CBGB bathroom is a good anchor to begin a show about PUNK lore, but not if the of the idiom is incomplete. Its romance existed in its demonstration of personal invention; hence, couture designs developed from warrior political DIY duds in the refined offices of their designers hardly tells the story of people who turned their rickety tenement apartments into performance art venues and sold beer from their fridges. Yes, fashion comes from the street, but the street must be fully exemplified before the finale on the runway where it becomes beautifully refined for the mainstream celebrity.
From Chaos to Couture does celebrate genius English Designers Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren with plaid pants, ripped shirts and sweaters. Her famously irreverent T-shirts were boiled down to nothing short of Queen Elizabeth’s safety pinned mouth—where were the real scary ones? Following Westwood there was no street DIY clothing which was where the real brunt of PUNK began. There was no time travel showing the graduation from rude and ravaged street scum of the 1970s duded out in chains and blue lips after a drug filled night at the Mud Club to fabulous Madonnafied leather and lace of the ‘80s at highly inspired AREA night club with its live human exhibits.
I was shocked when I saw styrofoam that was supposed to look like a wall with graffiti on it framing parts of the installation. The exhibit was seriously sanitized into corporate fashion culture. It was couture, all polished and fitted for the runway by Versace, McQueen, Zandra Rhodes, Comme De Garcon, etc. It was an excellent Madison Ave shop window. Beautiful stuff. I mean that sincerely. The choice of uniformity, all the white, black and pink hair mannequins, all with the same hairdo! It looks like they want to sell the costumes instead of represent the era. Looking the same speaks to the 2000s ordinary multiples and not the individuality of the wearer. The point was not to make things handsome as much as it was to alert the world of one’s drugged up, primal scream. Several rooms were painted black which was supposed to give off the Danceteria club feel. Sorry, didn’t feel nothin.’
Howie Pyro says it best in his “Truth is Cool” article: “I was friends with Anna Sui during the 1970s punk days. She was roommates with Walter Lure from Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers and is a New York fashion institution-nothing. Even Michael Schmidt who made razor blade dresses for Deborah Harry, etc. Nothing. Gaultier? Rick Owens? Nada. Don’t get me wrong. There were designers I like (Comme De Garcon, Zandra Rhodes), such as Stephen Sprouse being the only name from New York. So New York gets a toilet? In this bathroom, the first thing you see is graffiti of mine, very obvious to me, but it was obviously traced out of a photo blown up a thousand times, and the letters were relegated to shapes that resemble the words “The Blessed” (the name of my first band). All they would have had to do is look at the photograph and see what it said. So much from the greatest researchers in the great museum. It makes you wonder what actually happened in Egypt, ya know? Maybe this subject just wasn’t worth the time, as no one on earth has more tools to have made this amazing than the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” On another note, perhaps London’s V&A has the curatorial prowess to tackle this important period in depth.
The real show, as Pyro says is in the gift shop, where it becomes frighteningly clear that consumerism trumps history and makes PUNK into a goofy nifty-gifty sort of thing with big price tags. Whoa is me, I need a dose of Devo.
Words: Isa Freeling – June 26, 2013 Photos:1,3 Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art 2, Lizanne Merrill
PUNK: From Chaos to Couture Until 14 Aug Metropolitan Museum of Art