It is 40 years in November since the release of “Anarchy In The UK” announced the screaming, spitting arrival of Punk. Greil Marcus, the American cultural critic, wrote vividly that in the Sex Pistols’ debut single release, John Lydon spewed the vocals “as if his teeth had been ground down to points”.
The track includes the line, “Your future dream is a shopping scheme”, so it is perversely appropriate that just up the road from the Croydon Establishment’s wet dream which is the unbuilt Hammersfield supermall, an exhbition has just opened which includes what is almost certainly the first art work to display in the borough with a £1 million price tag.
This could be Jamie Reid’s Country Life butter moment.
Reid is famous as the designer of the sleeve for the Pistols’ typically nihilistic “God Save The Queen”, creating an image which instantly came to symbolise all that Punk stood for – or stood against. In similar style he also designed the album cover for “Never Mind The Bollocks”, and of other Pistols singles, including “Pretty Vacant”.
The exhibition at the Rise Gallery in the down-at-heel, almost forgotten St George’s Walk, marks Reid’s return to Croydon, the borough of his birth and where he was politically active in the 1960s at the school of art alongside Malcolm McLaren, the man who went on to manage the Pistols. Or invented them.
Maybe the £1 million Reid price tag in Croydon is just the latest manifestation of “The Great Rock ‘n Roll Swindle”?
According to McLaren’s own legend, the Pistols was an elaborate conceit where the artist-turned-promoter reckoned that he would make millions by deconstructing the overblown and self-important music industry using four youngsters who between them could barely play three chords, couldn’t read or write music and couldn’t really sing.
There’s a few lines from another Pistols song, “EMI”, after they were canned by the record label for outraging middle England by behaving as they were expected to behave on live television: “And you thought that we were faking, That we were all just money making, You do not believe we’re for real”.
Reid ought to remember how the track begins: “There’s unlimited supply,
And there is no reason why”.
So in Croydon 2016, perhaps the art work’s price tag is meant ironically?
Perhaps the price tag itself will one day be regarded as a work of art?
The Rise Gallery’s blurb for the well-timed retrospective exhibition of Reid’s work, called “Short Sharp Shock”, begins badly.
Its first word misuses “iconic”.
Reid, himself, is not iconic, though many of the images he created 40 years ago with newspaper cuttings, Pritt stick or Sellotape, do qualify for that now hackneyed descriptor.
But the gallery’s promo does set up the apparent contradiction of the sales price by providing some context: “Born and raised in Croydon, Reid condemned the regeneration projects sweeping the borough in the 1960s, concerned about the implications of the huge state-led reformations on local communities.”
The gallery’s publicity writer adds an exclamatory piece of commentary: “Sounds familiar!”
It goes on to note Reid’s part in the Suburban Press – “a periodical challenging the irreversible changes to Croydon’s skyline”. What a good idea.
“It was through these early illustrations that Reid developed his anti- establishment style of situationalist sloganeering and torn up images.” And which now are for sale at the same price as a luxury penthouse suite in the Altitude 25 tower block. At pre-2007 global financial crash prices, that is.
They add: “Reid is not only one of the most important artists of his era, but to date, with a reach extending to the biggest contemporary artists of the 21st Century.” Which might mean something to someone, somewhere.
This is the sales blurb of an art dealer’s showroom with product to flog, not the dispassionate viewing notes of an art exhibition.
It is assumed that this exhibition has been timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Punk, rather than being another piece of fawning over the Queen’s 90th birthday. But then, with the post-Punk era music stars of today taking to wearing £30,000 hats adorned with the label of new wave fashion designer Dame [ffs] Vivienne Westwood, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish where Punk ends and the Establishment begins.
As J Rotten once said, “Ever feel you’ve been ‘ad?”
At least the Jamie Reid exhibition, which runs Tuesdays to Saturdays until June 4, is free.
The Short Sharp Shock exhibition includes “some never before seen works, pieces from the artist’s personal archival collection, original illustrations from the Suburban Press and Reid’s biggest work to date, a mammoth 40 x 9ft mural never before exhibited in Croydon”.
The event is unticketed and admission is on a first-come, first-served basis. Though it does appear that the gallery owners prefer viewings by appointment, as they ask that, “To reserve a place please send an email to RSVP@rise-gallery.co.uk”.
“RSVP”: so very revolutionary.
So very… Punk.
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