When you think of punk rock, buzzsaw guitar playing, breakneck tempos and sweaty bodies pogoing may spring to mind. However, the subversive genre and subculture is as much a visual medium as it is an aural one. The new exhibit, Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die: Punk Graphics, 1976-1986 documents how art and design were as integral to the revolution as three guitar chords.
From expropriated images and texts to the DIY zines that challenged the slickness and soullessness of mainstream media, Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die explores punk’s visual language through its most memorable graphics. On view at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) through August 18, the show features more than 400 works including flyers, posters, zines, album covers, and other ephemera spanning an entire decade; the majority of the objects featured are courtesy of New York collector Andrew Krivine. Originating at Bloomfield Hills, Michigan’s Cranbrook Art Museum, the exhibition has been updated to reflect punk’s New York roots, featuring additions such as Blondie and the Ramones memorabilia, flyers from the infamous CBGB, and original issues of the short-lived seminal fanzine Punk (which gave the movement its name).
Venturing beyond the stereotypical “ransom note style” aesthetics of the decade, the works on view are arranged thematically, examining a variety of visual design strategies, including parody and pastiche, and techniques such as appropriation and collage. Such approaches are evident in the retro graphics reinterpreted by bands like the Go Go’s, The B-52’s and The Selecter, and in the more aggressive style of political revolutionary album art adopted by The Clash, Dead Kennedys and the Au Pairs.
Since its genesis on the Bowery over four decades ago, punk has seeped into the mainstream and in recent years, has become a favorite topic for cultural institutions; The Metropolitan Museum of Art presented the fashion-themed Punk: Chaos to Couture in 2013. MAD’s exhibition adds to the conversation by examining the genre through the lens of art and cultural history, presenting and debating innovative works and ideas with lots of energy, color, and noise.
Though critics and fans may never agree whether the death knell has sounded for punk rock, Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die is a testament that subversion and individualism never go out of style. Museum of Art and Design (MAD).
Story by Daniel Alonso
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