Gallery 98 has created a timeline of the “Downtown Era,” drawing from our extensive inventory of gallery invitations and posters. One of the rarer items is the invitation to the “Punk Art” exhibition at the Washington Project for the Arts, opened on May 15, 1978. Organized by Alice Denney with Bettie Ringma and Marc H. Miller (now of Gallery 98), the exhibition drew from the group of visual artists then frequenting the nightclub CBGB. Possibly the first exhibition to use the term “punk art,” it set the tone for much of the 1980s’ irreverent, D.I.Y. downtown art.
The exhibition invitation was a paper bag printed with the image of a Mona Lisa under a smashed and spray-painted piece of glass. An insert listed such events as the opening gala—featuring a punk-vs.-disco battle of the bands and live tattooing by artist Ruth Marten (currently featured in the tattoo exhibition at the New-York Historical Society)—and a Baltimore weekend with filmmaker John Waters and Edith Massey, star of Waters’s L’Enfant Terrible and a punk musician herself.
Some exhibition highlights were: Steven Kramer’s “Destructive Mouse,” which could destroy an apartment in an hour; the work of Ramones art director Arturo Vega (currently the subject of an exhibition at Howl! Happening); the junk sculpture by Alan Vega of the punk band Suicide (whose posthumous video portrait, by Paul Tschinkel, will premiere at Howl! on April 14); and a room devoted to Punk magazine, with cartoons by John Holmstrom and, scribbled on the wall, Legs McNeil’s “Punk Manifesto.”
The online exhibition “40 Top Art Events of the Downtown Era, 1974–1992” is currently on view at Gallery 98. The exhibition catalogue from “Punk Art” can be read online at 98 Bowery.