Linder Sterling, poster for Buzzcocks’ single “Orgasm Addict,” 1977.

“Loud Flash: British Punk on Paper”

Honor Fraser

Linder Sterling, poster for Buzzcocks’ single “Orgasm Addict,” 1977.

What is there left to say about punk in 2011? Some thirty-plus years after the fact, the spiky-haired and safety-pinned look has taken its place right alongside that of the hippie as a Halloween-costume option, drained of any potential to shock or scare. One could go further and claim that if punk once marked the outer limit of subcultural rebellion, then its apparent loss of agency suggests it may no longer be possible to signify refusal in stylistic terms. Today, the punk rocker mostly appears as an endearing, Muppet-like caricature.

However, Honor Fraser’s recent exhibition of punk-rock ephemera—which showcased the collection of Toby Mott, who also organized the show—reminded us to what extent a cartoonish element was part of punk from the start, and that this in no way betrays its direct line of descent from Futurism and Surrealism to Dadaism on down to Situationism

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