Nothing Short of Victory
A punk rocker’s clothes can be as labored over as a painting or sculpture or any other art object. Although perhaps rarely cleaned, a punk’s jacket could include meticulously placed spikes, buttons, patches, painted band logos, and dozens of other things. Nothing Short of Victory, a punk-themed exhibition at Reno Art Works, displays personalized items of clothing, like leather jackets, patchwork pants, well-worn T-shirts and boots, in a gallery setting like works of art.
There are also original artworks like small drawings and paintings, including some painted skateboard decks, as well as a collection of albums, tape and CD covers, and punk show fliers and posters—many from Reno shows, but some from iconic Bay Area punk venues like Gilman Street. One gallery wall is adorned with snapshots and parts of the gallery have been painted by punk rocker graffiti artists.
In many ways, Reno Art Works is an ideal place for an exhibition like this because the ramshackle, DIY spirit of the artists’ studios and gallery is fairly punk itself.
“We normally only do brand spanking new, off-the-wall stuff, but I thought it would be cool within our season this year to do a more museum history piece,” said Reno Art Works artist and curator Pan Pantoja.
The exhibition was guest curated by Reno punker Steve Elegant and assistant curator Chace Calvert. Pantoja described Elegant as “a guy about town with really unique ideas.” Elegant said he grew up immersed in punk culture, including playing in bands. He had special praise for the Reno punk community, which he described as especially “welcoming.”
Nothing Short of Victory is a very personal exhibition—the snapshots represent actual moments from people’s lives. The objects on display, like the clothes and album covers, have the well worn look of objects that have been used often. It’s a very intimate show, almost like seeing some punk’s bedroom rearranged into a gallery exhibition.
Elegant has a personal connection to many of the pieces in the exhibition. A large poster for the music festival Holidays in the Sun is centrally displayed among the show fliers. Holidays in the Sun was a British music festival that came to San Francisco in 2001. A bunch of classic British punk bands played the festival, like The Exploited, Slaughter & the Dogs, Sham 69, and Anti-Nowhere League.
“That was one of those landmark moments in my personal life,” said Elegant. “I wanted to include something of myself in here.”
Elegant said that although there have been other exhibitions documenting punks over the years, including the exhibition of Reno punk album art at the Nevada Museum of Art in 2010 (See “Rock together,” feature story, Sept. 30, 2010), most of those exhibitions focused on just one aspect of the culture—just album covers or just show posters or just fashion—and Elegant wanted to bring it all together.
“My hope was to collect everybody’s work and everybody’s lives and really be able to showcase that this is how we think, how we act, how we choose to look every day, and what we choose to see every day.”
Elegant said he went to friends among the community and asked them to lend their fliers and clothes for the exhibition. Many of the older punks had to dig deep in their closets to find their punk memorabilia.
“The fact that they held onto this for so long because of how much it meant to them and how much of themselves they put into these objects, and how much they put into their painting, and how much blood, sweat and tears they put into throwing these shows,” said Elegant. “I wanted that to be shown on the walls.”