Last week, we gave you a heads up on all the events going on around town in celebration of “Pump Me Up: DC Subculture of the 1980s” – a new exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. On Friday, FamousDC was one of 1,100 cool kids at the preview party, where we got to hang with exhibit curator and graffiti historian Roger Gastman; Black Flag front man and Georgetown native Henry Rollins; and DC’s punk rock figurehead Ian MacKaye. Considering these guys used to represent the antithesis of the Corcoran’s standard coterie, my guess is they never expected to see an exhibit dedicated to their visual, aural and DIY ethos, let alone for that exhibit to be packed to the gills.
The show was as appropriately informal as one could be in a fine art venue like the Corcoran. The display of album art, newspaper clippings, and photos of sweaty Youth Brigade basement shows was reminiscent of the way a fan might tape up posters and ticket stubs on her bedroom wall. Underground blueprints like the notebook-scrawled, original lyrics to Minor Threat’s “Straight Edge” and stamps used to make promotional fliers for basement shows were preserved under glass, while the original 9:30 Club sign hung above the crowd as a token link between then and now. To drive the nostalgia home “DJ” (iPod playlist creator) Henry Rollins compiled tracks consistent with the theme—Junk Yard, Trouble Funk, Urban Verbs, and Minor Threat were among the artists being celebrated in the exhibit and through the speakers.
Dischord Records co-founder Jeff Nelson’s infamous “MESSE IS A PIG” poster represented the anger over DC’s corrupt leadership, racial tension and lawless streets. In 1986, these posters wallpapered our city in a relentless act of guerilla warfare. In response, the DC government pandered to residents with posters and billboards reading “The Mayor Has Job For You! Grow with us in 86’.” Both bills were juxtaposed with a list of over 400 homicide victims named in the Washington Post on December 31, 1986, one of many representations of the bitter tension between David and Goliath during the 80s. This tension fueled the aggressive and often pugnacious scene being remembered on the walls of the Corcoran.
Most visually striking, though, was the brightly lit Corcoran rotunda. A live go-go band played while guests soaked in the vibrant colors and bold-faced type on the display of original Globe Printing Corp posters. Before Facebook event pages, these posters layered telephone poles and bulletin boards to inform the city of the next Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers or Bad Brains show. A look back on posters from decades ago told a story of a dormant scene and a dead medium. Baltimore’s Globe Printing Corporation started creating showcards in 1929, and recently released their entire collection to the Maryland Institute College of Art.
It’s easy to critique the irony of graffiti artists and anti-establishment punk bands being immortalized on the walls of the Corcoran while photographers and cricket-armed chicks drinking Moet Chandon chased around Henry Rollins, but “Pump Me Up” has shed light on a piece of DC history that many don’t realize has had a tremendous effect on the evolution of our city. Earn your stars and bars — check out the exhibit before it ends on April 7th.