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Corcoran's 'Pump Me Up' Pays Homage To D.C.'s '80s

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Visiters viewing the "Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s" exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Matt Laslo
Visiters viewing the "Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s" exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art is paying homage to the edgy subcultures that dominated the District in the 1980s. The political and racial tension of the era spawned sounds and images unique to our nation's capital.

On Sunday, D.C.'s own Henry Rollins hosted a mini funk-punk fest at the 9:30 Club that presented the city's once thriving punk scene and its most notorious sound, go-go. But the gritty sounds of D.C. in the '80s are just one part of the tale.

Through April, the Corcoran is displaying the other half of the story with its "Pump Me Up" exhibit curated by graffiti historian Roger Gastman.

"You know, a lot of the emotion they were putting into the music I think was going into that album's art work," says Gastman. "So I think visually, there's a lot of connection between the looks of the music and the sound of the music."

You can't divorce D.C. artists from politics. Racial tension, rioting and drugs engulfed a city that felt abandoned by its government. The Corcoran exhibit portrays the juxtaposition: a war on drugs raged nationally as former D.C. mayor Marion Barry got locked up for smoking crack. And while President Reagan dumped billions of dollars into the military, D.C.'s streets crumbled.

Artists like Cool "Disco" Dan used spray paint to make their mark. Corcoran curator Sarah Newman says graffiti artists and punk and go-go musicians created their own safe space by going underground.

"At the same time there was this effervescence of different subcultures and they really kind of stayed some of them broke big but they stayed very local," says Newman.

The Corcoran exhibit displaying the scars, angst, and creativity that defined a generation of local artists is up through April 7.

Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s

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