New Westport art exhibit explores punk era of music

New York City was arguably the heart of the punk scene in the 1970s, but Connecticut also has a solid foothold in the history of punk rock.

Many local bands and known musicians played shows here, primarily in New Haven’s house venues and clubs like Ron’s Place or in Hartford’s Agora Ballroom (aka Stage West). Centrally located between New York and Boston on the I-95 corridor, Connecticut was an easy stopover for musicians on tour. the Ramones, Patti Smith and the Poodle Boys were some of the many that performed here.

MoCA Westport’s newest exhibition, “Punk Is Coming,” on view through June 5, mostly includes artwork relating to New York shows, but there are strong Connecticut ties to its exhibition. Not only is one of the co-curators from Redding, Marian Schwindman, but she is also one of several local artists represented in the show. Besides her photography, the show also features assemblages by New Canaan artist Hans Neleman and artwork by Connecticut-based painter Richard Butler, who achieved fame as frontman for The Psychedelic Furs but is also an accomplished visual artist.

Boasting never-before-seen videos and a dynamic installation of oversized period photos by Roberta Bayley, the exhibit features the work of more than 50 photographers, artists and videographers. These people were all in the right place at the right time capturing historic moments. The exhibit surveys the punk era from its music to its fashion and messaging, which, in a full circle moment, is surprisingly relevant today.

“I find an enormous amount of parallels happening,” said exhibition co-curator Liz Leggett, MoCA Westport’s director of exhibitions. “The ideas of disenfranchised youth, questioning the government and discrepancies in wealth really ring true today.”


An exhibition highlight, displayed in a screening room, is a one-hour video installation by two videographers who documented the punk scene at 1970s hotspots like CBGB, Mudd Club and Danceteria: Emily Armstrong, who now lives in Bridgewater, and New Yorker Pat Ivers .

Both women were in their 20s then and working in what was deemed a “man’s world,” but instead of meeting sexism, they found support from their fellow punk outsiders. From 1975-80, they borrowed portable video cameras from their day jobs at public access Manhattan Cable to film bands at night. Their video installation runs about an hour long in the exhibition and features footage pulled deep from their archives with performances by the Ramones, The Lounge Lizards and when John Belushi (on drums) joined the Dead Boys and Divine on stage during a benefit show.

“Richard Hell and the Voidoids.”  Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong.  Videostill.

“Richard Hell and the Voidoids.” Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong. Videostill.

Courtesy of Emily Armstrong and Pat Ivers

They shot hundreds of hours of footage and had the foresight to hold onto them. “We are artists and archivists and spokespeople for that wonderful scene,” Armstrong said. Ivers immediately knew they were bearing witness to something historic and ephemeral. Later on, they shared much of their work on their local access TV show, “GoNightclubbing,” but they dug out a few never-seen or rare gems for this exhibit.

Of the exhibition, Armstrong said, “It’s not just about music. It was a very kind of vibrant scene and there were a lot of people making art and I think those curators did a great job of bringing that non-music art into a museum and showing the creativity of the people that made the initial punk scene. ”

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