all photos: Jeff Martin
This past Friday, 1100 people poured into the Corcoran for the much talked about, much anticipated, much everything opening night + party for “PUMP ME UP: DC Subculture of the 1980s” show, a first ever museum hosted exhibit dedicated to the DIY ethos and visual and aural aesthetic of the era that DC still very much relies on for their (sub) culture identity.
It was the kind of show and the kind of party that a certain type of a DC resident feels oddly emotionally connected to; the kind of show and party that they think will somehow justify their tastes and friends and maybe even the decision to stay here in DC instead of move to New York or Berlin or Tokyo; the kind of show and party that they feel like they’ve been waiting for FOR A LONG TIME; the kind of show and party they feel they and this city deserve; the kind of show and party that they literally dreamed of; and so, needless to say – the anticipation stakes were pretty high (yes, we know this previous sentence sounds overly dramatic and bombastic, but if you are that certain type of DC resident or know him/her, then you know it is maybe even a slight understatement of the true fetishized state of the mental affairs of that certain type of DC resident)
The good news is, the show and the party delivered. Maybe not quite in the way imagined by some, but strongly enough that not too many dreams were crushed this past Friday (and lets face it, some dreams are always going to be crushed, no matter how well anything is done – so lets just file those under collateral damage).
The exhibit itself, curated by Roger Gastman (above, left) a DC based graffiti historian and documentary filmmaker (“Exit through the gift shop” and now, and relatedly – “Legend of Cool Disco Dan”) and coordinated by Corcoran’s Curator for Contemporary Art Sarah Newman (above, right) explores a raw, boisterous look that DC’s streets adopted in the wake of their racial, drug and corruption battles, but saying that it is a show about graffiti and wheat paste posters of the era is hugely underselling it.
What Gastman and Newman did instead was create as informal of a formal show as you’re likely to run across in a traditional fine art museum setting (ever?). Eschewing labeling and traditional display, PUMP ME UP instead goes for something approximating a pretty objective narrative history of a time and a place, shown to us in ways a fan boy would have displayed it on his teenage bedroom walls: barely framed, with the energy of the art/objects displayed wanting to burst out of it’s assigned confines.
This allows for a decidedly less precious feel as one walks the show and the kind of immediacy that is particularly impressive considering that the show is displayed in the gorgeous, marble floored, high ceilinged and very grand Corcoran main atrium. Yes, this is emotionally sensitive cargo but these are items meant to be leaned into, newspaper prints that require a closer look, show photos that look better if you can mentally place yourself in them.
I imagine that people alive and participating in the actual Go-Go and Hardcore movement of the 80s never anticipated to see photos of themselves sweating to Bad Brains in a basement of a house show on display in a place like Corcoran or that the kids printing those Rites of Spring 8×11 posters ever thought this would have a longer life span than the show they were promoting, let alone be collected and shown as art, but this is the year when all of that apparently became reality. DC has come full circle – the subculture of the 80s is part of one of the most talked about, high profile, mainstream DC press anticipated show of 2013.
The era is just far enough in the past that it feels like legitimate history to “kids these days” and still close enough that people participating in it actively are around to make sure their moment in the revolution summer sun is not warped when shared publicly.
Still, with all that effort put into the show coming off as casually meticulous as possible, the highlight, in our humble opinion, is the upstairs rotunda, a gorgeously, brightly lit space that seems custom made to host the highest of high art, this time around filled in a dizzying circle of color and type by the old-school show posters from GLOBE Printing Corp, displayed in a way that allows the room’s whole be greater than the sum of their messy, vibrant parts. It is that rare exhibit moment when a room and what is about to be shown in it find a great fit in each other, against all odds, resulting in truly great energy between the two. In a show that we feel is going to be instagrammed incessantly (especially if our Friday feed was of any indication) we would place our bets on this space as the room that gets the most attention, which is what truly counts these days, right? (don’t forget to tag @corcorangallery in them, btw – internet sharing is the new caring, after all)
Now, about the party. The evening, a special preview (the show didn’t officially open till the next day) AND a party (DJed by none other than DC’s second favorite ex-Haagen Dasz employee and long suffering BYT interview subject Henry Rollins), sold out VERY FAST (at $35 a ticket) and the attendees showed up, armed with cell phone cameras, determined to truly make this evening with their local music heroes count. After all, if it isn’t on instagram in 2013, it may as well have not happened, right? right? RIGHT.
And the thing is-they got what they came for. Henry relatively quickly made it clear that the DJ set in question would look like something like this:
and quickly set about his real job for the evening: being a photo mascot, which he did with aplomb and a high level of professionalism, truth be told.
In fact, the evening took on a feeling of an almost Hardcore Con vibe, with real! live! straight edge! legends walking around, shaking hands, smiling for fans and cameras. Yes-Ian MacKaye was there (red hat! not black! – obviously a festive occasion)
Yes, Seth Hurwitz AND the old 9:30 Club sign were there too! (930 club participated in facilitating the show, allowing Gastman access to their poster and memorabilia archives-ed)
as well as most other people to ever make a mark on the DC music universe no matter what of the last three decades we are talking about: yes, Eric Hilton. yes, Erick Jackson from Apes. yes, Tittsworth. yes, yes, yes.
Notably absent: Mayor for Life Marion Barry, present on most walls of the show.
And while it could be easy to point out the irony that back then seeing Fugazi or Minor Threat play live would set you back $5 or less, and that in 2013 for $35 you get Henry’s ipod, the evening still had a good feeling to it: old friends, new friends, old fans, new fans, plenty of Moet Chandon champagne (which while not making for a particularly straight edge vibe did result in a nicely lubricated gallery opening ) and all the hashtagged memories DC could handle for one evening.
Now, enjoy some more of the photos, and go see the show too, which we feel should be pretty mandatory for all BYT readers worth their DC pride (it runs through April 7th, with special programming throughout and March 2nd a free, family day): CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS