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Punk Meant Anything

PUNK gallery view

The Clothes for Heroes gallery in the PUNK: Chaos to Couture exhibition. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. See more gallery views.

When I walked into the Metropolitan Museum's PUNK: Chaos to Couture exhibition, I was not expecting big-name designers. Punk was supposedly a movement for nobody and nothing, wasn’t it? However, upon walking into the exhibition's catacomb of glorified dissension, replete with pieces from Galliano, Dolce and Gabbana, and Prada, I soon realized that the designer clothes on display are a testament to punk's power. I didn't used to associate names like Versace and Dior with crusty-shirted tribalism and deconstructionism, but punk has so changed the landscape for artistic expression that Givenchy and Johnny Rotten can now coexist happily in the same place.

PUNK gallery view

The D.I.Y.: Hardware gallery in the exhibition. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Though I used to think that punk was a movement for nobody and nothing, I now realize that punk was and still is a movement for everybody and everything, which is why it speaks to everyone, and so damn loudly. Punk addressed everything. It concerned everything. It challenged everything that people thought and felt and expressed. Punk still has no filter. It is still angry and violent, and very, very sexy. And what better way to garner attention than by utilizing sex and violence? That's what sells.

I'd like to address those two italicized words for a moment: "attention" and "sells." These are concepts that I never associated with punk because how can a countercultural movement truly be countercultural if it's concerned with appeal? Punk's willingness to embrace its own popularity, however, was arguably a statement in and of itself. Punks did things that were widely considered to be unacceptable but committed to them fully. The heroes of the movement committed themselves with the entirety of their beings. Richard Hell embraced leather in the same way that Marcel Duchamp embraced the urinal, and that, in my opinion, is truly moving.

Related Links
PUNK: Chaos to Couture
Marcel Duchamp's urinal sculpture, Fountain, on SFMOMA's website

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