Pump Me Up: DC Subculture of the 1980s

March 14 2013 . 08:23pm

Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s is the first exhibition to explore the thriving underground of Washington, D.C., during the 1980s, giving visual form to the raucous energy of graffiti, Go-Go music, and a world-renowned punk and hardcore scene.

The exhibition explores the visual culture of the “other D.C.,” demonstrating its place in the history of street art as well as that of America’s capital city. In the midst of notorious problems with drugs and corruption, D.C. gave birth to an infectious visual culture captured in the exhibition through posters, graffiti, graphic art, archival photographs, and ephemera. Pump Me Up tells a local history from a local point of view, while providing a framework for the contemporary surge of interest in street art and underground graphics.

Pump Me Up traces the history of graffiti in Washington while emphasizing its inextricable ties to the burgeoning forms of local music. The exhibition highlights the vibrant scene that sprang up around Go-Go, a local form of funk pioneered by Chuck Brown and others, including the stripped-down “Go-Go graffiti” style. Started by neighborhood “crews,” this style became a hallmark of the D.C. style of graffiti writing. Around the same time, an underground hardcore and punk scene sprang up in venues like the Wilson Center and the 9:30 Club.

Ephemera, photos, flyers, posters, records, newspaper clippings, stage clothes, instruments, video loops, and much more, all made largely between 1980 and 1992, will fill the Corcoran’s Atrium and Rotunda, bringing the era to life. The exhibition includes sections on graffiti writers (notably the work of COOL “DISCO” DAN), the D.C. punk, hardcore, and Go-Go scenes, concert posters made by the Baltimore-based Globe printing press, and visual culture from the drug wars.

Pump Me Up is curated by Roger Gastman, who began writing graffiti as a teenager in Bethesda, Maryland. Since then, he has founded and published the pop culture magazines While You Were Sleeping and Swindle, with Shepard Fairey, and authored a dozen graffiti art books including The History of American Graffiti (with Caleb Neelon; 2011). In 2011 he curated, with Jeffrey Deitch and Aaron Rose, the exhibition Art in the Streets at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Gastman’s film production credits include Banksy’s Exit through the Gift Shop and the graffiti documentary Wall Writers, and he is currently directing a documentary for Sanrio/Hello Kitty on the history of the brand and its fans.

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