Thirty-five years after the release of The Ramones’ debut album, a punk attitude has erupted on 23rd Street in the heart of the Chelsea gallery district during the normally bleak and deserted summer gallery months with the Steven Kasher Gallery’s Rude and Reckless: Punk/Post-Punk Graphics, 1976-1982 and the I-20 Gallery’s MAKE Skateboards.
Mere steps from each other, these shows create a small dialogue between the punk and skateboard cultures that have been associated with one another since their beginnings. Providing a stark comparison with the traditionally blue-chip Chelsea gallery shows, both exhibitions highlight the Do-It-Yourself ethic of both the past and present artistic subcultures.
Since the mid-1970s, punk and skateboarding have been clearly linked, particularly in California. Photographers such as Glen E. Friedman documented the rise of a group of skateboarders called the Z-Boys or the Zephyr team who would skate in “Dogtown” in West Los Angeles, which was most notably included in the 2001 film Dogtown and Z-Boys. Friedman also photographed the burgeoning punk and hardcore music scene, including bands like Black Flag, whose album covers and show flyers — should be noted — were often designed by artist Raymond Pettibon.
The Steven Kasher Gallery’s Rude and Reckless: Punk/Post-Punk Graphics, 1976-1982, which runs in conjunction with Laura Levine: Musicians, a small photography show, displays the flyers, posters, buttons, T-shirts and zines that defined and advertised the punk era. Normally sequestered into small display cases, these often crudely Xeroxed flyers aren’t accustomed to being given the spotlight in such a large way. The promotional materials on display are from the collection of Andrew Krivine and they cover the entirety of the gallery walls. The flyers and other ephemera represent musicians ranging from now classic bands (The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Ramones) to lesser-known post-punk bands (Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, The Slits).
Much like their Fall 2010 exhibition Max’s Kansas City, the Steven Kasher Gallery attempts to mount a history of what is normally seen as ephemeral material, but they are not the only ones looking twice at what was normally discarded. Recently, other art spaces and art historians have also been taking a closer look at the social nature of punk ephemera. For instance, David A. Ensmiger recently published Visual Vitriol: The Street Art and Subcultures of the Punk and Hardcore Generation, which explores the visual dialogue of punk.
Judging from their press release, the Kasher Gallery appears eager to emphasis the importance of the graphic design elements on these flyers and posters, as if that is their primary value. Yet, for me, it is difficult to separate the aesthetics of the flyers from the personalities of the bands. Rather than considering the revolutionary design sensibility of the flyers and posters, I was personally excited by images of Patti Smith and Lydia Lunch.
However, the strength of the show is in its support of the DIY ethics of the punk and post-punk bands. Xeroxed and made to be stapled or tacked onto outside walls, these flyers, posters and other ephemera could be made and duplicated by almost anyone. Revealing the agency of the individual or the individual band, the flyers and posters of Rude and Reckless reveal the strength of the older punk generation’s zeal for self-promotion.
The I-20 Gallery contains a summer exhibition titled MAKE Skateboards. Organized by Jonathan Lavoie and Scott Ogden, the show turns the gallery space into a working skate shop, where visitors can purchase skate decks, art, clothing and furniture. MAKE Skateboards offers two types of skate decks: silk-screened decks by artists, such as Kenny Scharf, and one-of-a-kind pieces that are closer to stand alone art pieces than usable skateboards, like a crochet-ed skateboard from Olek. In addition to the decks, MAKE Skateboards also features original artwork such as an intricate drawing that reflects the movements of a skateboarder by Michael Alan.
Displaying the artist produced skateboards in a row on the large back wall of the gallery, MAKE Skateboards presents the Chelsea gallery as it truly is: a retail establishment.
By hosting what will most likely be crowd-pleasing exhibitions that highlight the street subcultures of punk and skateboarding, these two Chelsea spaces have dived head first into exploring the ever expanding reach of the visual art world and its DIY acolytes.
Rude and Reckless: Punk/Post-Punk Graphics, 1976-1982 and Laura Levine: Musicians will be on view at the Steven Kasher Gallery through August 19, 2011. MAKE Skateboards will be on view at the I-20 Gallery through September 17, 2011.
Homepage image: X3 Studios, “Alternative TV, The Image Has Cracked” (1978) vintage poster (via stevenkasher.com)