Museum PR Announcements News and Information

Corcoran Gallery of Art announces Pump Me Up. D.C. Subculture of the 1980s

Corcoran Gallery of Art presents Pump Me Up. D.C. Subculture of the 1980s, the first museum exhibition to explore the visual culture of the era in Washington, on view February 23–April 7, 2013.

COOL “DISCO” DAN at Good Hope Road, Southeast Washington, 2008. Photo by Rosina Teri Memolo.

The exhibition explores the visual culture of the ‘other D.C.,’ demonstrating its place in the history of street art as well as that of America’s capital city. In the midst of notorious problems with drugs and corruption, D.C. gave birth to an infectious visual culture captured in the exhibition through Globe posters, graffiti, graphic art, archival photographs, and ephemera. Pump Me Up tells a local history from a local point of view—the graffiti historian Roger Gastman—while providing a framework for the contemporary surge of interest in street art and underground graphics.

Pump Me Up traces the history of graffiti in Washington while emphasizing its inextricable ties to the burgeoning forms of local music. The exhibition highlights the vibrant scene that sprang up around Go-Go, a local form of funk pioneered by Chuck Brown and others, including the stripped-down “Go-Go graffiti” style. Started by neighborhood “crews,” this style became a hallmark of the D.C. style of graffiti writing. Around the same time, an underground hardcore and punk scene sprang up in venues like the Wilson Center and the 9:30 Club.

Ephemera, photos, flyers, posters, records, newspaper clippings, stage cloths, instruments, video loops, and much more, all largely made between 1980 and 1992, will fill the Corcoran’s Atrium and Rotunda, bringing the era to life. The exhibition includes sections on graffiti writers (notably the work of COOL “DISCO” DAN), the D.C. punk, hardcore, and Go-Go scenes, concert posters made by the Baltimore-based Globe printing press, and visual culture from the drug wars.

A 320-page publication, entitled Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s, will be published alongside the exhibition. The book includes a foreword by Sarah Newman, curator of contemporary art at the Corcoran. “The Legend of COOL ‘DISCO’ DAN,” a 90-minute documentary about the storied local graffiti writer, will be released in tandem with the exhibition. The film, produced in collaboration with Joseph Pattisall, is narrated by Henry Rollins and features interviews with Chuck Brown, civil rights advocate Walter Fauntroy, Marion Barry, and graffiti writers including GO-GO TONYA F and Dan himself.

Pump Me Up is curated by Roger Gastman, who began writing graffiti as a teenager in Bethesda, Maryland. Since then, he has founded and published the pop culture magazines While You Were Sleeping and Swindle, with Shepard Fairey, and authored a dozen graffiti art books including The History of American Graffiti (with Caleb Neelon; Harper Collins, 2011). In 2011 he curated, with Jeffrey Deitch and Aaron Rose, the exhibition Art in the Streets at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Gastman’s film production credits include Banksy’s Exit through the Gift Shop, and the graffiti documentary Wall Writers, and he is currently directing a documentary for Sanrio/Hello Kitty on the history of the brand and its fans. Iley Brown, Caleb Neelon and Joseph Pattisall all contributed to the development of the exhibition. The exhibition is coordinated by Sarah Newman, curator of contemporary art at the Corcoran.

For more information, visit