Barbican does it Sid's way with homage to punk art

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was the year when the Sex Pistols' hit "God Save the Queen" was deemed a personal attack on the monarch as she marked her Silver Jubilee and united the British establishment in outcry at the expletives and safety pin aesthetic of the new punk phenomenon.

If anyone had told Sid Vicious in 1977 that he would inspire an exhibition in one of Britain's most respected artistic institutions, he might well have spat at them.

But he has. Next year the Barbican in London will mark the 30th anniversary of punk with Panic Attack! Art in the Punk Years, examining the influence of punk on the visual arts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Curiously, the exhibition is designed as a highlight of the Barbican's own Silver Jubilee celebrations. But announcing a programme of 25 landmark events, Graham Sheffield, its artistic director, said punk's 30th birthday was "happenstance".

Instead he insisted it was an idea programmers had been considering for some time. "There's a renewed interest in that period," he said. "Sometimes there's a right time to do it. Now was the right time to reassess that period."

Exhibits are expected to include Sex Pistols record covers and clothes worn by members of The Clash. Curators will argue that the punk label can be applied to the art of the time even though the phenomenon is most closely associated with music, fashion and graphics.

The show is one highlight of the Barbican's 25th birthday which will also mark the final season with Sir John Tusa, 70, the managing director since 1995, in charge.

Other events will include the first concerts by the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) under its new guest conductor Valery Gergiev, and new work from the Complicite theatre company and Michael Clark's dancers. It will all take place in a venue transformed by the completion this week of a nine-year £30m redevelopment. A proper entrance has been created, in Silk Street, for the first time.

The centre has come a long way from the early days when the programme revolved around the LSO and the Royal Shakespeare Company, nobody could navigate the site, and the management was engulfed in controversy.

Sir John said: "Almost every building goes through a phase of looking profoundly unfashionable. But if buildings can make it through the 20 to 25-year hiatus, they often achieve a new understanding and appreciation. As we approach our 25th birthday in March 2007, we can see that the Barbican has some excellent qualities."

Mr Sheffield said the Barbican created and commissioned work on "a scale unmatched by any other institution". The Barbican receives its public subsidy from the City of London Corporation, making the local authority the third largest funder of the arts in Britain, after the Arts Council and the BBC.

Asked whether it was because of the absence of Arts Council bureaucracy that the refurbishment had been completed on budget and on time, Sir John praised the City of London's management regime as "deliberately light".

"The Government's obsessive concern with objectives amounts to micro-management, and micro-management is not good for anybody. It produces endless rigidities and you don't use the money as well as you could," he said.

But the Barbican may have to look to the Arts Council for support in future because the City of London is cutting its Barbican subsidy after its own rate support grant was reduced. This, however, will be a problem for whoever succeeds Sir John. The search is about to begin.