By Mike Tucker
I have to admit it was strange walking into the elegant and esteemed Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art and Design to see an exhibit on Go-Go culture. Maybe it was the grandness of the building and the idea that it was a new level of respect or maybe it was that the White House is a stone’s throw away and I hoped that our President might visit to learn about some hardcore DC history.
As soon as you walk through the doors the exhibit begins with a staged street front collage of yellow caution tape, a body outlined in chalk, a boom box, a 40 oz bottle in a brown paper bag and torn Go-Go posters on a abandoned door front.
Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s, opened February 23, 2013 to large crowds eager to see and learn from the first visual exploration of the underground culture that was the heartbeat of D.C. during the 80s. It draws a parallel trajectory between the city’s wild punk and Go-Go scenes but primarily focuses on Go-Go.
It is a timeline outlining the perimeter of the galleries Atrium with some of the most troubled but creatively expressive times in DC’s history. The violence, the drugs, the scandals, the youth and the music are all on display. The timeline begins with the 1968 riots of DC where storeowners painted the words “Soul Brother” on their doors in hopes of being spared by rioters. It spans the birth of Go-Go in 1978 with Chuck Brown’s first band Los Latinos to the apex of its national acceptance that with Brown’s “Bustin Loose,” E.U. “Doin Da Butt” with Spike Lee and the kids from Barry Farms banging on pots and pans that would get a record deal with the largest Hip-Hop label in the country, Def Jam.
Following the Atrium and traveling down the hallways, you would hear and see audio and visual displays including newspaper clips, flyers, pins and videos. A documentary shows the outbreak of the drug PCP to fashions from the Madness Shop where Go-Goers got their wears. Walk up the stairs to the spacious rotunda and you are treated to an encompassing display of the multicolor blocked Globe Posters, which promoters used to get the word out about Go-Gos. This was before computer graphics and photo shop. You would see these posters everywhere throughout the city.
The curator of the exhibit is graffiti historian Roger Gastman, who grew up in Bethesda. He followed the Go-Go scene and has an affinity for both Go-Go and punk. A 320-page book, entitled Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s, was published in conjunction with the exhibition and can be purchased in the gallery bookstore along with COOL ‘DISCO’ DAN t-shirts and the DC carryout sauce of choice, mumbo sauce. “The Legend of COOL ‘DISCO’ DAN,” a 90-minute documentary about the storied local graffiti writer, recently premiered at the AFI Cultural Theater in Silver Spring to coincide with the exhibition. The film features interviews with Chuck Brown, civil rights advocate Walter Fauntroy, Marion Barry, and graffiti writers including GO-GO TONYA F.
There are two remaining events at the Corcoran that go alongside the exhibit. The first, Go-Go Music: The Evolution of the DC’s Legendary Beat on March 18, 7pm, a lecture with Kip Lornell, Adjunct Professor of American Music and Ethnomusicology at George Washington University and co-author of The Beat: Go Go Music from Washington, DC. The second, DIY DC on March 28, 7p.m. is about the different sets of rules and creativity that centered around the culture in the 80s with panelists Trouble Funk’s “Big” Tony Fisher, Rare Essence’s Andre “Whiteboy” Johnson, longtime Washington music writer Mark Jenkins and former D.C. Police detective Donald “Goose” Gossage to name a few.
Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s will run at the Corcoran Gallery of Art until April 7, 2013. Tickets are $10 for the exhibit and/or events. The gallery is located at 500 17th St. NW, Washington, DC. For more information visit www.corcoran.org.