IMPRESSARIO: MALCOLM MCLAREN AND THE BRITISH NEW WAVE
The New Museum
Curator: Paul Taylor
Exhibition design in collaboration with Ken Saylor
New York City, 1988
At the time of this exhibition there was still a great divide separating High Art from Popular Culture within the art world. We saw Malcom McLaren’s work as an opportunity to explore popular culture, music, publicity and various medias from an art world perspective rather than from the popular culture perspective where his work was usually situated. We were interested in the eventlike structure of popular culture and how the ‘event’ might be re-contextualized within the context of a Museum. In particular, we were interested in Walter Benjamin’s notions of ‘reproduction’ as he expressed them in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. We saw McLaren’s use of popular culture and various medias strategies alongside his Anarchic Situtationist stance—from his art school days to Glitter Rock to Fashion (with Vivenne Westwood) to Punk to Duck Rock (world music) and finally to Fans (opera)—as seeming to give political impetus to the practices of appropriation and exploitation that were currently circulating in the art world.
This was most apparent in his work with the Sex Pistols where his ‘appropriation’ of Punk Rock and his subsequent manipulation of several record companies, the music and popular press, coupled with his ability to tie the actions of the band to ‘newsworthy’ events in the UK unemployment, racial tension, tabloid sensationalism, swipes at the rich and the Royal Family—seemed to constitute an intervention/rupture within the pop music business, youth culture, fashion and even graphics. But as his strategies were absorbed but the mechanisms of popular culture, he begin to abandon much of the critique that gave his work with the Sex Pistols its power; moving closer and closer to Romanticism as he moved further from Punk. The album Fans and its soft-core video, despite his claim that it was a re-telling of the Vietnam War and hence topical, ultimately could not catch the zeitgeist and was received as merely a pastiche of an historical past.