Punk art ‘goes gallery’

As an exhibition of punk's graphic design opens at London's Hayward Gallery, Richard MacKichan asks: is punk still giving the middle finger to the establishment?

Punk ‘going museum’ is a contentious issue. On the one hand, the hurried, visceral nature of all things punk is a raised middle finger to anything even approaching such establishments. On the other, punk-loving curators are always wont to celebrate the merit of the movement, keen for a bit of fury and rebellion to punctuate otherwise chin-strokey calendars and maybe inspire new generations.

So let the debate rage again as London’s Hayward Gallery prepares to show Someday All the Adults Will Die: Punk Graphics 1971-1984, a comprehensive overview of punk graphic design from before, during and after the punk years.

In the curator’s chair for this South Bank retrospective are music writer Jon Savage and New York gallery owner and author Johan Kugelberg, who explains: “If you don’t like the culture you are spoon-fed, you can make your own. It worked wonders at the end of the Seventies, and all these jagged, chiaroscuro urgent masterpieces of graphic design, executed by art school masters alongside anguished adolescents, continue to reverberate as get-up-and-get-on-with-it eyeball-pleasers.”

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“If you don't like the culture you are spoon-fed, you can make your own. It worked wonders at the end of the Seventies”

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Much of the show’s ephemera comes from previously unseen private (and public) collections and takes in clothes designed by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, early Pistols pamphlets, fanzines including Sniffin’ Glue, some DIY seven-inch records and – from the other side of the pond – limited edition Black Flag prints, early Ramones press releases and artwork from Crass founder Penny Rimbaud and cartoonist John Holmstrom. Street art supremo Banksy joins the dots to the present day.

According to the pre-show material, punk’s “upsurge in graphic creativity revolutionised design, with its influence still felt today – perhaps more so than any time since its inception – as designers consciously or unconsciously tap into a rough-hewn aesthetic and handcrafted visual-language”.

This is the topic for a panel discussion taking place tonight (13 September), between award-winning writer William Gibson’, ‘zine-ist Tony Drayton, Crass sleeve designer Gee Vaucher and the aforementioned John Holmstrom; a dream punk dinner party.

The Hayward’s brutalist concrete walls will then play home to these punk pieces until Sunday 4 November, and the exhibition coincides with the publication of Punk: An Aesthetic by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage, published by Rizzoli.

Someday All the Adults Will Die: Punk Graphics 1971 – 1984 opens on 14 September 2012 at the Hayward Gallery Project Space, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX

The panel discussion tonight (13 September) is moderated by exhibition co-curator Johan Kugelberg at the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre (7pm, £10). Information and tickets: 0844 847 9910 or the Southbank Centre

Further reading: Punk Jubilee: the 45s from ’77