’Punk: From Chaos to Couture’ at the Metropolitan Art Museum in 2013 had already driven the message home: punk is dead.
I should have kept that in mind before visiting ‘Punk in Britain’ at the Galleria Carla Sozzani in Milan.
Born as a parallel movement in the USA and Britain around 1976, the punk movement was not just a reaction to the mainstream rock scene which had become tame and unassertive. It also represented a rejection of the nostalgia of the 1970s.
The aggressive pursuit of a liberating new identity with a strong nihilistic outlook had both attitude and coherence.
Authenticity was paramount in the punk subculture and people who adopted the look without embracing or understanding the inherent philosophy were branded as ‘poseurs’.
Billed as marking the 40th anniversary of punk, the exhibition combines the photographs of Simon Barker, Dennis Morris, Sheila Rock, Ray Stevenson, Karen Knorr and Olivier Richon with drawings, collages and graphics of Jamie Reid plus videos and photos of John Tiberi.
The result is hardly convincing.
Corso Como 10 is at the centre of the Milanese movida. This is where you come to sip martinis.
The strong elitist identity of this gallery is at odds with the anti-establishment sentiment of the punk scene.
The rawness and the anger against a backdrop of high unemployment and social unrest in Britain are completely muted here.
In a country such as Italy, with very little connection to punk Britain, bar a tenuous link through the fashion world, the focus should have been on the disillusionment and self imposed alienation which fuelled the members of this movement from the very start; images of everyday rage, bitterness and rebellion.
Last November I remember reading that the punk community of West Oakland in California had organised a vegan bake sale fundraiser supposedly to arm themselves against the gentrification of the city. At the time I remember thinking that nothing could have shouted ‘middle class’ louder than their own event.
This exhibition is a similarly sanitised version of punk. One that might appeal to the Johnny Rotten of the Country Life butter commercials, but would have repelled the younger self of God Save the Queen.
‘Punk in Britain’ is at the Galleria Carla Sozzani until 28/08/2016.