In recent weeks, we've covered a lot of music in New York’s museums, from the blues at The Whitney to music videos at the Museum of the Moving Image. Now, it’s time to consider yet another exhibit that draws its inspiration from music. But this one may surprise you: The Metropolitan Museum of Art has organized an exhibit, called Punk: Chaos to Couture. Opening on May 9th, it’s an examination of punk’s impact on high fashion. Nitsuh Abebe wrote about the exhibit, and what punk means today, for New York Magazine, and he joins us to discuss.
Nitsuh Abebe, on the massive visual component of punk:
I think a lot of people who have strong ideological connections to punk don’t like being reminded of this fact, but it had a huge visual component and a fashion component. Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood… were fairly instrumental in bringing the idea of punk to the UK. Westwood’s a designer, and that was a big part of what they were doing. That look seems to have captivated people more easily than the music even did.
On tattered clothes and safety pins as a punk rocker’s necessity rather than a fashion statement:
We maybe act like people in high fashion are in such an opulent environment that they can’t react to this, but I think somebody who’s a designer will probably still take some pleasure in the idea of clothing with a visual impact that was just made out of pure necessity and invention, not by other designers.
On the positivity of punk:
There’s certainly a lot of rage and negativity and sort of sneering in punk, but what is forgotten often is that when you listen to it, it’s fairly joyful music. Part of the impulse is [that] we can shred and throw away the things we don’t care for and then do anything we want. You don’t listen to the Ramones and scowl and hate the world. You listen to the Ramones and sort of jump around giddy and happy, enjoying the energy of it. I think most punk has that positivity.