In her book, Punk Art History: Artworks from the European No Future Generation (Intellect Books, 2023), Marie Arleth Skov examines the punk movement of the 1970s to early 1980s. Through archival research, interviews, and an art historical analysis, Skov situates punk as an art movement. It is about pop, pain, poetry, presence, and about a ‘no future’ generation refusing to be the next artworld avant-garde, instead choosing to be the ‘rear-guard’.
Skov draws on personal interviews with punk art protagonists from London, New York, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Berlin, among others the members Die Tödliche Doris (The Deadly Doris), members of Værkstedet Værst (The Workshop Called Worst), Nina Sten-Knudsen, Marc Miller, Diana Ozon, Hugo Kaagman, as well as email correspondence with Jon Savage, Anna Banana, and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. Skov covers events such as the Prostitution exhibition at the ICA in London in 1976 and Die Große Untergangsshow (The Grand Downfall Show) in West-Berlin in 1981 and explores paintings, drawings, bricolages, collages, booklets, posters, zines, installations, sculptures, Super 8 films, documentation of performances and happenings, body art, street art.
What emerges is how crucial the concept of history was in punk at that point in time. The punk movement's rejection of the tale of progress and prosperity, as it was being propagated on both sides of the iron curtain, evidently manifested itself in punk visual art too. Central to the book is the thesis that punks placed themselves as the rear-guards, not the avant-gardes, a statement which was in made by Danish punks in 1981, when they called themselves “bagtropperne". Behind the rear-guard watchword was the rejection of the inherent notion of progress that the avant-garde name brings with it; how could a "no future" movement want to lead the way?
Rebekah Buchanan is a Professor of English and Director of English Education at Western Illinois University. Her research focuses on feminism, activism, and literacy practices in youth culture, specifically through zines and music.