I’ve known Carl Gunhouse, curator of the exhibit We Don’t Owe You a Thing (at Small Black Door through March 31st) for a few years now, though conversations have established that we were also at more than a few of the same hardcore shows in New Jersey in the late 90s. That didn’t come as much of a shock. Growing up listening to hardcore means finding things in common with people you encounter everywhere — socially, in music far removed from breakdowns and circle pits, and on the walls of galleries.
The overlap between hardcore and art isn’t a new one. The name of Mark McCoy might ring bells due to his time as vocalist in the fantastic late-90s hardcore band Charles Bronson, but he’s made his mark more recently as an artist. Those in New York seeking out his work might want to visit the Allegra LaViola Gallery. (Some images in that link are NSFW.) Brian Montuori makes visceral, large-scale paintings of self-desctructing machine/animal hybrids; he’s also the vocalist of Psychic Limb, who hearken back to the aggressive late-90s style of hardcore you might have heard at a show at New Brunswick’s Melody Bar. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the ways in which art and hardcore can overlap.
Hence: We Don’t Owe You a Thing. Walking into the subterranean confines of Small Black Door, I was greeted by art on most of the walls, from textual deconstructions to pieces that alluded directly to — The space seemed tailor-made for a band to be set up in one corner with a merch table closer to the door; maybe someone selling vegan pasta nearby.
Some of the art alludes directly to punk and hardcore: Keith Sullivan’s video installation incorporates Minor Threat lyrics; Thomas Marquet distills the showgoing experience down to a half-eaten burrito; and Jacob Rhodes contributed work from his Candy Skin project, about a group of skinheads who make their own clothing. Others, like Guy Nelson, opted for a looser approach, creating abstract forms that evoked some of hardcore’s menace without nodding in the direction of a particular lyric, song, or artist.
Completing the hardcore-show feel of the place were stacks of zines, many created for this show. A thick black-and-white edition featured reviews of shows from Quicksand, United Nations, and Fucked Up; scene reports; and interviews with the likes of Harley Flanagan and Tim Davis. Not far away was a one-page edition; I can’t think of many spaces that would review both a Francis Alys show at David Zwirmer alongside the longrunning New Jersey hardcore band Ensign’s recent show at the Court Tavern, but I now know of at least one. It was idiosyncratic, but — like the zines that first helped usher me into the hardcore scene almost twenty years ago — they seemed to be a gateway into a particular way of seeing the world.