Demoler! Demoler! Demoler!’ As far as statements of punk intent go, the band Los Saicos pretty much nailed it in Peru way back in 1965 with the guttural chorus to ‘Demolicion’. Screaming ‘destroy’ until you’re blue in the face is basically all punk was ever really good for, because the minute it came into existence, it was obliterated– that’s how it was designed.
Fortysomething Mexican conceptualist Abraham Cruz Villegas namechecks Los Saicos in the handout for this show. He has based his collaboratively constructed sculptures on the idea of destroying punk, on ‘un-learning’ and ‘destroying destruction’ as he puts it. I hate to be the guy to point this out, but you’re not going to destroy anyone’s idea of punk in a Mayfair gallery, buddy. Secondly, all that was already done in a more efficient way by the Dada. Thirdly, this is part of a Latinoamerican movement that started in places such as Mexico City and Buenos Aires which problematised art by framing its literal destruction. The problem with this post-minimalism of sorts is that it is mainly allegorical and as such ends up being ‘poetic’ in its own. In other words, far from engaging in any artistic dialogue, it ends up creating a new canon of ‘beauty’ through ugliness.
These conceptual issues niggle at you as you wander through the works. The main gallery looks like an explosion in a junkyard, caught mid-boom. Chunks of lumber and masonry float in mid air. There are animal jawbones, piles of wood, metal railings draped in cloth, a smashed guitar (punk rock!). It’s like an emaciated version of Phyllida Barlow’s new Tate Britain installation.
The other problem with the idea of punk lies in the fact that punk as a movement was linked to an idea of ‘do it yourself’ and not ‘ready made’. There is no framing of ‘ready made’ objects in punk but a destruction that comes from a belief that a better world is possible with a new approach to its commodification.
Whatever ideas Cruzvillegas might have about celebrating the forgotten Latino roots of punk and conceptualism – or even of subverting punk through repetition of its clichés – are lost. This show is both literally and metaphorically….shit! Just a thought.