The year 1976 saw the birth of an indelible cultural moment, more or less simultaneously, in the U.K and New York City. Given the fragmentary and combative nature of punk ideology and aesthetics, it is amazing how much consensus there is in recognizing this date as the year punk was born. From this modest historical assumption, the Museum of Art and Design presents “Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die,” which eschews linear temporal claims and privileges punk’s origins on the left side of the Atlantic while still giving visitors plenty of what they need from the UK.
Wisely, the show instead gives its subject context through its contact with other twentieth century artistic movements, at the same time avoiding a contestable timetable of punk’s evolution – and according to some, demise – and giving the sophisticated graphic artwork of the era its due.
Culturally influential and personally stirring pieces like Malcolm Garrett and Linder (Sterling)’s poster for The Buzzcocks’ “Orgasm Addict” come off of teenage bedroom walls and become products of rich artistic heritages of collage and imbued with serious ideological implications which draw upon not just the historicized idea of 1970s feminism but gender emancipation in general.
WHAT: Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die
WHERE: Museum of Arts and Design
WHEN: April 9, 2019 through August 18, 2019
Other spaces in the gallery showcase posters for shows and album releases organized by their relation to such famed creative movements as pop art, Soviet art and Russian constructivism, and comic book aesthetics. There are also spaces devoted to punk’s influence on and contact with adjacent musical movements, such as the new wave.
These spaces, which parse the collection into contextualizable subgenres, stand in stark contrast with the spaces that the visitor steps into straight off the elevator. The main areas of both floors of the exhibition are taken up with floor to ceiling posters hung on black walls with little or no explanatory wording. Really, none is needed. The names of the original designers of many of these works are lost and the images themselves have become iconic in many cases. The top floor also features two turntables and two crates of records that visitors may listen to, and there are several video installations which feature footage of performances of acts like The Ramones. The effect of this juxtaposition: gluts of ephemera against the sparser spaces which breakdown the collection into its artistically contextualized parts, is one that takes these piles of posters, pins, and record sleeves and transforms it into a consistent, radiant, and validating expression of punk’s most critical historical period.