It was fast. It was rude. It was loud.
It was dangerous. It was wild. In the most comprehensive exhibition
ever mounted, Forming: The Early Days of L.A. Punk, brings to life the
unprecedented musical and artistic energy of the Los Angeles punk scene
from 1976 to 1982.
Less well known than its New York and British cousins, Los Angeles was nevertheless a vortex of punk energy and music. Fueled by ambivalence to the prevailing cultural and social climate, musicians, artists, writers, photographers and a diverse audience joined together to produce a flourishing scene. Bands popped up in far flung corners of Los Angeles and Orange County. Hot venues made strange bedfellows of punks and Chinatown-dowagers, seventies-style heavy metal long-hairs and cholos from East LA.
The "hard-core" of the exhibition comes from the collection of John Roecker and includes everything from graffiti-covered doors and plaster chips from the legendary underground dungeon-cum-club, the Masque to flyers, buttons, magazines, 45s and albums, posters and other ephemera like the baroquely beautiful diaries of Exene Cervenka. Also included in the exhibition, which is curated by Cervenka, Susan Martin, Kristine McKenna, Pilar Perez, Viggo Mortensen, and Roecker, are works by influential artists of the 70s with affinities to the punk scene.
Photographers on the scene represented in the show and catalogue include Edward Colver, Glen E. Friedman, Diane Gamboa, Frank Gargani, Jenny Lens, Gary Leonard, Melanie Nissen, Hendrickson Nyburg, and Ann Summa--all of whom paid their dues as insiders in the frenzied punk milieu made famous in the pages of Slash magazine. Artists and designers like Lou Beach and Gary Panter who contributed to Slash are also represented, as are the horrifyingly beautiful drawings of Mike Gira (then of the punk band Little Cripples and No magazine, later of Swans). Also on view and included for sale are new works by Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo), Warren Fitzgerald (the Vandals), Tomata du Plenty (the Screamers).
Flying in formation with the music were a handful of artists who sometimes performed with punk bands and whose work had the edgy angst so evident in the music. Of this group, on view in the exhibition are mural-sized photographs documenting the sometimes hilarious, sometimes hair-raising performances of the Kipper Kids; documentation of the shrewd and visually stunning performances of Johanna Went; early drawings by renowned artist Raymond Pettibone, whose work for the seminal band Black Flag established his dark presence in the art world; and photo-documentation of the infamous full-scale blood and guts performance by Viennese Aktionist, Hermann Nitsch that included a 30 piece orchestra of students and weirdos and punks.
A fully illustrated catalogue edited by the curators includes excerpts from the foul-mouthed, rubber-bodied, raving-maniac editor of Slash magazine--Claude Bessy; a rambling conversation with Exene and John Doe about the meaning of punk and the endurance of hair styles; an essay contextualizing the scene by Billboard magazine writer and punk aficionado, Chris Morris; an overview of punk aesthetics by Kristine McKenna; a look at the East LA punk scene by Sean Carrillo; and a timeline that juxtaposes the highlights of punk with the low points of popular culture and the news of the day-- all mixed together in a visual stew by the original publisher and designer of Slash magazine, the inimitable Steve Samiof.
A special screening of Dave Markeys movie, Love Doll, and a video documentary about the early punk scene round out this in-depth look at an era of do-it-yourself iconoclasm.