The new punk rock exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art does its best to document the genesis of punk rock music in New York City, but in the end, its inauthentic feel and disorganized presentation make this exhibit fall flat.
On the surface, the exhibit seems satisfactory. There are many pictures, videos, and album covers around, including Laurie Anderson’s notable “O Superman,” in which she uses lots of imagery for symbolism. “Edit deAk” by Paul Dougherty and Walter Robinson is also on display, an abstract video with images of New York from the early days of synthetic punk. “Hey Joe” and “Piss Factory” by Patti Smith offer comic relief with their aggressive, sexually charged poetic lyrics set to music. Coleen Fitxgibbon’s “Time” includes lots of white noise with sporadic words, and set to a blinking video of random black and white images–certainly not for the novice on the punk scene. The exhibit even included Queens’ own Ramones, with their minimalist “Rocket to Russia,” which offered some of the most charismatic rock in the entire exhibit.
The museum curators did their best to document the era of punk through clothes, records, pictures, video, and music, but made a serious misstep with the organization of the exhibit. Frankly, there’s too much of it. The exhibit is in a pristinely white and orderly space, with everything tidy. While the curators included notable talent from the time listed above, they ignored everything that talent said and felt. The curators forgot that punk came about to go against the tidy and the neat and the pristine. Subsequently, the entire exhibit feels more inauthentic and bourgeois than raw and real. “O Superman” can’t really be appreciated in a room than feels more like the Met and than MoMA.