“Compared to the free love ethos of the hippies or the body-centric hedonism of Disco, Punk was not really about sex”, write the curators of the thoughtful and often thrilling Punk Lust exhibition that opened last night at the Museum of Sex. “Rather,” they continue, “Punk worked the psychosexual dynamics of sexuality as a matter of politics and provocation. If it had had a motto it would not have been ‘let’s fuck’, but ‘fuck you’ or ‘fuck off.’”
Sexuality as an act of aggression is everywhere in evidence in the more than 300 photographs, films, fashion pieces, artworks, and artifacts in the show, all of which are on loan from some 50 private collections as well as many of the musicians themselves, a few of whom, such as Snooky and Tish Bellomo of the Sic F*cks (who also ran Manic Panic on St. Marks) were on hand last night for the opening party. Director Jim Jarmusch and artist Lee Quinones were also among the large, rowdy crowd checking out the show.
Punk sexuality was also about upending society’s notions of beauty and messing with gender norms, and much of the aesthetics and attitude in the artifacts here overlap with the emergence of radical queer culture. The exploding commercial sex industry of the 1970s both influenced and supported punk sexual provocation as well. And beyond any sort of intellectual, historical, or even erotic interest you might find here, Punk Lust is also an irresistibly nostalgic experience for viewers of a certain age, those of us who smashed our way through this glorious mess the first time around.
“Punk Lust: Raw Provocation 1971-1985” will be on view at the Museum of Sex through November 30, 2019.