At the end of the hippie hangover and before the dawn of Reagan, the punks, new wavers and other strangers arrived to say the party was over. In response, they started their own party. In America, artists like Blondie, Patti Smith, Talking Heads, and the Ramones screamed their primal screams in dives like CBGB and the Mudd Club. Some artists went on to national recording careers. But in the era of its birth, this mutant breed of alternate music was far off the mainstream — and that was the whole point. In an era of slick, over-produced dance tunes, a few brave musicians dared to be raw and rude — or arty, obscure and experimental. No, it wasn't feel-good music. But it was real. Two companion exhibits at Selby Gallery will open a quick and dirty time portal to this beautifully burned-out era from Aug. 13 through Sept. 20.
In Gallery I, “Low Fidelity: Still Photographs by Bobby Grossman 1975-1983” offers a gritty, un-airbrushed slice of the New York City punk and new wave scene. Grossman’s limited-edition, silver gelatin prints reveal Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Bowie,William S. Burroughs, David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Debbie Harry, Andy Warhol and Tina Weymouth in all their outsider artist glory. Grossman's work is the sneering opposite of composed, over-analyzed, sanitized, celebrity photographs. He shows you real people. Exposed, open, vulnerable, unrehearsed and captured in the moment. Portraits of the artists, not filtered through the publicity machine. Ephemeral cultural history, caught on film.
According to Grossman, that was really a happy accident.
"It didn't occur to me at the time, but I was documenting the era," he recalls. "I didn't have a plan at first. At one point, I just picked up a camera and took it with me. I went to one of the NYC clubs and took some shots of people who interested me. I wound up taking the camera the next night, and then every night— just getting my shots, and looking at the contact sheets the next day. One day I was looking at one of the sheets and the thought occurred to me: This is history, and I got it. I didn't set out to do that, but that's what I did."
Grossman's original punk era photographs will share space with three contemporary collaborations with Choco Moo, a Japanese artist of the “Millennial” generation. Her work is somewhere between Keith Haring and a precocious teenage girl's drawings on the cover of a school notebook. An explosion of pop iconography, fashion and stylized characters in glorious black and white. Moo is fond of saying "Art is my life" with girlish glee. One look at her inventive, exuberant, witty, giddy style tells you that's true. Here, she added her art to Grossman's by drawing on three of his iconic images. The multimedia mash-up will put a smile on your face.
Gallery II will showcase “Underground Forces: Target Video 1977-1984.” Director Joe Rees’ digital film anthology series features rare footage captured by Target Video, a San Francisco punk rock video collective that relentlessly documented punk’s seminal performances on high quality videotape and film. The three, 90-minute compilations focus on the different punk and hard core music scenes in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York/Europe. Rees' anthology series premiered at the 2011 Sarasota Film Festival and was recently screened at The Getty Museum, The Cinefamily and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. All three anthologies will be screened simultaneously here.
Area-based DJ, visual artist, and filmmaker Jill Hoffman-Kowal was a co-founder of Target Video — and recorded many of the anthology's segments. Those moving images reveal a diverse cast of characters — and that's putting it mildly. The anthology's featured performers include the Avengers, Bauhaus, Black Flag, William S. Burroughs, The Clash, The Cramps, Crucifix, The Dead Kennedys, The Dils, The Go-Go's, the Sex Pistols, Talking Heads, Mark Pauline, Survival Research Labs, Johanna Went and X. Big names, many of them. But according to Hoffman-Kowal, the personality on stage was never the only focus.
The Target Videographers were capturing lightning in a bottle — the sights, sounds and feelings of a defiant, new subculture. Recorded, distilled experience that makes you feel like you were there.
"We were on the cusp of video and the simultaneous emergence of an art/music scene," she says. "We just happened to be right on the pulse, right at the right time, and it was explosive. It was just beyond imagination. We got it on tape, and the tapes grew into a huge library. We're really proud of it, and we've traveled the world with this material. Decades later, it’s sparking interest once more. I’m really excited to be bringing it back home again."
Hoffman-Kowal recalls her days on the team that filmed the mercurial first wave of punk and hardcore musicians — and ultimately created the world's largest punk rock film library. While punk rock was famously raw, their style of filmmaking wasn’t. Using multiple cameras and sophisticated editing, the Target Video collective produced high quality footage of live and studio performances. "We were early adopters," she says. "What we were using was very advanced for the time — the first generation of video technology you could carry around without breaking your back. It was portable, immediate and you could look at the results right away. That freed us up to be right in the moment — and that made all the difference."
Through Sept. 20 at Selby Gallery at the Ringling College of Art and Design; (941) 359-7563.
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