Nicholas D. Lowry’s Specialist Picks: Favorite Lots from The Subculture Sale

Nicholas D. Lowry shares his picks for The Subculture Sale
Bidding open now through February 8

There are so many exciting and wonderful items in our upcoming Subculture auction that it is hard to choose favorites. Unlike with the majority of Swann’s auctions, the material we are selling largely comes from within our lifetimes, or at least certainly closer to our personal experiences than, say, a book or print from the sixteenth or seventeenth century. The material in this auction reverberates differently for collectors. When viewed through the lens of being  “the alternative current of expression that informed some before it became mainstream,” we can understand how this material ultimately helped drive and in some cases even dictate popular culture.

New York 1980s

Lot 89: A Certain Ratio. Madonna, offset lithograph handbill / invitation, 1982. Estimate $350 to $500.

Earliest known flyer for Madonna, announcing her performance at Danceteria, opening for the Manchester band “A Certain Ratio,” with a photograph of the band on the verso.

Left: Lot 90: David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (Burning House with Camouflage Plane), stencil and spray paint on newsprint, 1982. Estimate $10,000 to $15,000.

During the 1980s, Wojnarowicz designed flyers for bands such as 3 Teens Kill 4 and posted them throughout the East Village. Once he realized that these paper posters were being torn down, he switched to stenciling, often accompanied by artist friends. Inspired by contemporary street artists, including Jean-Michel Basquiat and “SAMO” (Keith Haring), as well as international symbols, he created his first stenciled artwork in 1981. Wojnarowicz found that the bold, efficient medium suited him and he continued to work with stencils for the rest of his career. The iconography of his early stenciled works, including burning houses, soldiers, falling men and planes, laid the foundational visual vocabulary for his later works.

Lot 91: David Wojnarowicz, Pyramid Club / 3 Teens Kill 4, offset lithograph poster / flyer, 1983. Estimate $800 to $1,200.

Lot 102: Keith Haring, Ronald Reagan Accused of TV Star Sex Death (October 22, 1980), photocopy, 1980. Estimate $10,000 to $15,000.

Haring created newspaper collages from New York Post headline clippings, and using the new medium of the Xerox machine, posted reproductions of these works around New York.

This early Xerox technique in retrieving material from mass media became a shared project for many downtown artists in the early 1980s. Artists such as Jenny Holzer, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf, and Haring himself, experimented with the collage form and continually influenced its potential in content and distribution. From this early experimentation in crossing pop culture with guerilla art, Haring developed and grew his unique iconography.

Punk Rock

Right: Lot 113: The Cramps / Human Fly, circa 1978. Estimate $800 to $1,200.

Pioneers of psychobilly, one of the first American garage punk bands, and part of the CBGB punk rock scene in New York, The Cramps released their iconic, punk-grunge single “Human Fly” in 1978. Promoting the radical and rebellious single, the vibrant and saccharine pink ink on the high-contrast photograph of the band recalls trashy horror-movie typology highlighting the aggressive glamour characteristic of The Cramps’s music and image.

Lot 114: Bad Brains & Discharge, 1982. Estimate $700 to $1,000.

Bad Brains was a seminal hardcore punk band (referred to by Rolling Stone as “the mother of all black hard-rock bands”), considered by some to be the foundation of the American hardcore scene. Discharge was an equally influential British hardcore punk band touring the United States for the first time after the release of their first full-length album, “Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing.”

Left: Lot 115: Slash / Germs (MIA), 1993. Estimate $500 to $750.

Advertising the release of MIA, a complete anthology album of the seminal punk band, the Germs. The poster is a reproduction of the April, 1978, cover of Slash, the famed Los Angeles Punk fanzine that published between 1977 and 1980 and went on to become Slash Records. The image is of Darby Crash, the lead singer of the Germs who died by suicide in 1980.

Pettibon’s imagery helped define the punk aesthetic. Black Flag was founded by his brother as was the record label SST for whom Raymond did a lot of work.

Hip Hop

Lot 128: Jodi Buren, Hip Hop Photographs / Fun Gallery, 1984. Estimate $500 to $750.

Founded as a graffiti gallery in 1981 by Patti Astor, the groundbreaking and influential Fun Gallery was provided its name by Kenny Scharf who christened it thus for an exhibition he held there. It was one of the first galleries in downtown New York, cementing the Lower East Side as hip and cutting edge. It helped introduce hip hop, breakdancing and graffiti to the wider world, with Keith Haring, Basquiat, and Fab 5 Freddy all exhibiting there. It closed in 1985. This poster is for the first gallery exhibition of hip hop photographs, curated by Mark Bussell, “presented in conjunction with the release of Hip Hop: The Illustrated History of Break Dancing, Rap Music and Graffiti by Steven Hager, published by St. Martin’s Press.

Lot 130: Joe Conzo, CB4, digital print, 1980, printed 2005. Estimate $700 to $1,000.

Dubbed by the New York Times as “the man who took hip hop’s baby pictures,” Joe Conzo here captures legendary hip hop originators The Cold Crush Brothers. Taken in 1980, the photograph appears in the opening sequence of Chris Rock’s film “CB4.”

Shabazz is best known for his posed street photographs of urban-styled young Black people in New York City. His work records self-determination and joy, and is positioned as collaborative with his subjects. Now considered an unparalleled archive of street culture in the 1980s and 90s, Shabazz’s imagery is intentional, exhuberatant, and proud.

Right: Lot 137: UTFO / Dana Dana / Boogie Down Prod, 1987. Estimate $4,000 to $6,000.

UTFO, Spoonie G, Dana Dane, Boogie Down Productions and Steady B all released albums that year, and Cool C had his debut single. The exceptional line-up also featured Grand Wizard Johnny-O and the Sorcerer Crew and Sweet ‘N Low. In spite of being billed, accurately, as a super fall rap spectacular,” the concert was a matinee. The Toledo Sports Arena, a multi-purpose venue housing ice hockey, boxing, wrestling, concerts and more, was built in 1947 and demolished in 2007.