I went to go see "Under the Big Black Sun", the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art's exhibit of modern art from 1974-1981 on Saturday. It was a free day for most of Los Angeles' museums, so I figured I would make the most of it with a journey downtown, via train, through the barren wastelands of Downtown LA on the weekend, to Little Tokyo.
Now, with an exhibition named after an album by LA punk band X, and scheduled events involving Henry Rollins and another one involving X performing with the Dead Kennedys and the Avengers, you'd think this would be a very punk-centric exhibit.
Well, actually, if you know much about punk, the fact that MOCA is honoring the LA arts scene in the punk era with performances by two SAN FRANCISCAN punk bands would probably be a warning that we're going to get a very selective and self-serving exhibit.
And that's exactly what we get. The main portion of the exhibit is devoted to the expected modern art conceptual pieces, recordings of performance art and video pieces, strange abstract stuff, and borderline tongue-in-cheek anthropological photography.
And then, shoved into two rooms in the very back of the building, hidden behind an unrelated exhibition on Theaster Gates and Civil Rights, are the majority of the punk pieces.
Which amount to two Gary Panter pieces, some random collective propaganda art (for benefits or protests, etc.) and a wall of Raymond Pettibon art.
So MOCA has basically segregated the punk rock culture items from the rest of the modern art. And I don't totally blame them.
Because while one or two pieces of the main exhibit are "creative" or "interesting", most of it disappeared from my mind the instant I walked away. But the Gary Panter art and the Raymond Pettibon art stuck. Pettibon's pop-art/Chick-tract/comic book-damaged art especially is a million times more shocking, scary and witty than anything in the rest of the exhibit. If you put any Raymond Pettibon flyer next to a series of matches placed on top of quarters representing the Soviet armored cavalry (no, I'm not joking), I doubt you'd really care about the latter.
And, strangely enough, MOCA must realize what the real draw is, because in addition to a marketing campaign trying to springboard off of punk, 9/10ths of the gift shop is given over to punk memorabilia. You don't see any coffee table books about left-wing post-modernists who white out newspaper headlines or take blurry stills from inaugural videos. You see copies of Black Flag's discography and oral histories of punk.
I don't think there's any question that punk is an art form, not a revolution, at this point. But it's hilarious that, even as co-opted and compromised as it is, it still has more lifeblood than your average piece of contemporary art.