DC Life – Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s at the Corcoran Gallery of Art

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Last week I visited the Corcoran Gallery of Art for the first time to view a new exhibit about the subculture of graffiti, rap, go-go and punk scene in D.C. during the 1980s and early 90s.  Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s showcases the birth of an underground movement within the framework of the notorious drug problems, corruption and violence in D.C. at the time.  The exhibit spans the years between 1980 and 1992 and includes photos, records, video footage, newspaper clippings, original pieces of street art (sometimes entire chunks of walls), flyers, posters and much more.  I found it so interesting because although the majority of the movement took place before I was born, I was still able to identify with parts of the culture that I heard of, but didn’t necessarily know the history.

Go-go, D.C.'s native brand of funk meets hip hop

Go-go, D.C.’s native brand of funk meets hip hop

The tie in of the underground movement to local and national politics was my favorite part of the exhibit.  A portion focused on former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry who despite his gigantic (and recurring) fall from grace, is unconditionally loved by D.C. residents.  A relatively shocking part of the exhibit highlighted the extreme violence and drug problems in D.C. during the late 80s, and the reactionary birth of anti-drug paraphernalia and music, as well as street art intended to spread a message of peace.

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Original magazines and anti-drug paraphernalia from the collection of Roger Gastman. The pattern below the magazines of anti-drug slogans are bed sheets!

Speaking of spreading a message of peace, I became aware of this exhibit through my friend Rico, a street artist who spreads a message of “Mas Paz” through his artwork.  Please check out my interview with Rico for Downtown Traveler here.  Rico will be a part of an exhibit called Ill Street Blues opening at the Corcoran College of Art + Design on March 27 that explores the worlds of street art and graffiti.  If you have plans to be in D.C. at the end of the month, make sure to check it out!  Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s will run through April 7 and is an absolute must-see.  Insider tip: visit the exhibit on a Wednesday evening for Corcoran Uncorked where the gallery is open until 9 p.m. and a cocktail or glass of wine is included in your ticket purchase!

Enjoy a few of my favorite images from the exhibit below!

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2 Responses

  1. Leslie says:

    Looks like a cool exhibit! As an outsider, I don’t get why DC loves Marion Barry. Such a mystery!

  2. […] on the gallery walls.  ‘Ill Street Blues’ was inspired by the absolutely breathtaking ‘Pump Me Up: DC Subculture of the 1980s’ exhibition going on at the big sister, Corcoran Gallery of […]

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