I’m not usually a modern art type, but of course the subculture connection to his work drew me in, and every so often we try to go to museums to see something interesting, or see if we’ll enjoy it. The last time there was a Basquait exhibit in Brooklyn we went, and despite only being passively aware of his work (knowing who he was in a larger pop culture context) I hadn’t been a “fan” or truly appreciative. Anyway, I’d never heard of, much less been to, The New Museum before, so it was a two-fold experience. Semi-related, the museum was not only NOT new, but was small enough that the Pettibon exhibit was the whole of the museum (except the top two floors, one of which was an empty white floorspace with a balcony you can go out onto, which I guess was the entirety of the installation? There was more too one floor down, but other than saying “it looks like an unfinished construction site,” I can’t think of anything else nice to say.
The only time Pettibon’s been in my radar recently was his work on the cover for the 2015 The Best American Comics collection, but honestly if you’re not A) constantly collecting old punk stuff or B) actively following modern art I don’t see how you’d be aware of who he was.
I was pleased that while obviously, you can’t do something on Pettibon without touching on the fact that his art was the face of Black Flag and the 1980s SoCal hardcore scene, the whole of the exhibit didn’t focus entirely on that. Yeah, here were his zines and early zine art, but there was also his post-“punk” work that took what he did and expanded on it, utilizing what he was probably best known with Flag/Minutemen cover and flyer art (almost out-of-context text combined with obscene and bordering-on-outright corruption of conventional pop art to create confusing but striking contrasts) and pushing it forward.
It was a nice fucked-up immersion, looking at how he’s continued since the 70’s and 80’s to continue to expand on creating uncomfortable experiences on paper with ink and paint, almost purposely making lines thick, making paint piled up, and making some work dark and detailed and some so barely-there it looks like a mess of lines half-finished. The overall theme, though, where even minimal drawing clashes with the text to manage to imply there’s something bad and gross and jarring going on around us, one we can’t necessarily escape from, only try to navigate.
The exhibit’s title is “A Pen of All Work,” which seems to be a pretty good way to sum up the whole of the thing. So much of his work is literal pen, but it also seems to imply that there’s this sweeping connection to it all, that all of the work falls under his pen with a theme and connective web we just don’t see. While that seems obvious, it’s more in a workman-aspect that’s similar to say, older writers who would write anything and everything rather than limit themselves to a particular genre, knowing that ultimately all work that you create reflects your voice, whether or not it seems it.
Anyway, if you’re in NY and want to see some weird fucked-up art (as well as guys in old 80s punk band t-shirts awkwardly milling around) The New Museum’s “Raymond Pettibon: A Pen of All Work” is on until April 9th.