There was a week in high school when my mom begrudgingly let me stay out in New York City for almost three nights in a row. It was the early 2000s, and I hopped between shows at the Knitting Factory, CBGBs, and Brownies (these clubs don’t exist anymore, and the Knitting Factory moved from Leonard Street to Brooklyn). The punk I enjoyed then would have been unrecognizable to the genre’s originators, and the New York I knew then would be, too. The punk in 2016? Forget about it.
This month, if you’re looking for punk from the 1970s and ’80s, you can find it in downtown Manhattan, right where it came from: PUNK Magazine, the publication that documented it all, recently celebrated its 40th anniversary at Howl! Happening, while there’s a show at Printed Matter and a forthcoming Ramones exhibition at the Queens Museum. Punk is in the air.
Curated by the iconic magazine’s founding publisher and illustrator, John Holmstrom, PUNK Magazine: 40th Anniversary Exhibition was a welcome tribute. Punk as a genre has always straddled mediums. With music at its center, punk has been an idea and aesthetic choice. Like the genre, the show at Howl! Happening included many of these components: graphic design, comics, posters, photographs, fashion, sculpture, video, and printed publications.
The comics created in PUNK Magazine illustrate familiar faces like Blondie, the Ramones, Richard Hell, and countless members of the New York avant-garde, like superheroes of a secret underground. It’s an underground that’s really only accessible through shows like this, through ephemera of the time that captures the zany, hilarious, aggressive, fun, and truly game-changing high jinx that both evoked and came from punk.
The PUNK show may have ended January 30, but Howl! Happening released an exhibition catalogue as well as a reprint of PUNK’s first edition, with a Frankenstein-like Lou Reed on the cover, so you can peruse the materials yourself. Indeed, punk continues at Howl! this month with an exhibition of Marcia Resnick’s large-format photographs called Punks, Poets and Provocateurs: New York City Bad Boys 1977–1982.
While the PUNK show was truly an homage to the famous magazine, the Boo-Hooray’s Punk and Hardcore Fliers, Zines and Ephemera show at Printed Matter looks at various punk-related Xerox prints and zines from the time. Focusing mostly on the West Coast, the selection of fliers at Printed Matter represents a slew of artists, familiar and unfamiliar. Original fliers from the ’70s and ’80s are arranged neatly on the walls, featuring iconic punk bands like Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Misfits, Descendents, and the Ramones.
Fliers are born from a sense of need and immediacy: if your band doesn’t promote its own show, no one else will. Artists use fliers to express their political opinions, not only by appropriating newspaper headlines and cut-outs, but often through their own illustrations. Through fliers and zines, punk reinforced itself as a political tool. The medium is the message.
The zines at Printed Matter are under glass, so their covers are displayed as capsules in time, referencing interviews with bands that haven’t existed in decades, and political situations that seem to keep repeating no matter how much time goes by. The objects also serve as examples of graphic and publication design. Old issues of Maximum Rock’n’roll, some with quite memorable covers, are available for $40. I totally get it — I might even buy one myself — but this is almost an inside joke to old punks. Who would spend $40 on MRR? Today’s issues only cost $4.30 with a subscription; it’s arguably the longest-running punk fanzine in the world.
In the mix of various fliers is a large selection of Black Flag ones illustrated by renowned artist Raymond Pettibon, Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn’s brother. Pettibon’s most recent gallery show is down the street from Printed Matter, Forgetting the Hand, a collaboration with Marcel Dzama at David Zwirner. This makes for a worthwhile juxtaposition: at Printed Matter, you can view Pettibon’s work in the context of the punk scene he grew up in. At Zwirner, the view is a traditional gallery setting. It becomes obvious that once you’re a punk, you’re always a punk. Pettibon may have drawn on the walls and created a zine for the Zwirner show, but this kind of mark-making and publishing originates in a more feral (and arguably more fun) setting: the basements and small clubs of the punk scene.
If you’re truly craving a peek back into old New York, consider all of the above, topped off with a stop into Patricia Field, the notoriously flamboyant clothing shop, before it closes. If it’s more punk that you need, check out a viewing of the documentary on DC punk activist collective Positive Force, More than a Witness at Nitehawk on February 24.
Punk and Hardcore Fliers, Zines and Ephemera continues at Printed Matter (231 11th Ave, Chelsea, Manhattan) through February 13.
Positive Force: More than a Witness screens at Nitehawk (136 Metropolitan Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn) on Wednesday, February 24.
Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk opens at the Queens Museum (New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens) April 10.
PUNK Magazine: 40th Anniversary Exhibition ran at Howl! Happening (6 E 1st St, Lowe East Side) January 14–January 30.