Ramshackle glories

Feb 4, 2004 at 12:00 am

If you remove the jarring aural sensation of punk rock and are left with, say, John Holmstrom’s Ramones caricatures, Leni Sinclair’s MC5 photographs or Bob Gruen’s shots of Iggy’s bulldozing virility, you can still somehow hear the music, or at least imagine how it would sound.

So much about rock ’n’ roll in the ’70s was a patchwork of image and racket riddled with sexual tension, all open to interpretation. Long before such things became wrapped in image-driven corporate marketing or seen on MTV, photos, illustrations and songs enticed our imaginations and made metaphors and videos in our heads. These images were far more powerful in terms of initial impact and endurance than mere music videos. And the photography and art from the era left as much history as the music.

With the work of Sinclair, Holmstrom and Gruen, in particular, the innocence is palpable. There’s a vulnerability that shows us that “underground” rock ’n’ roll in the late ’60s and ’70s was as accidental and spontaneous as it was unruly and revolutionary.

Enter the Fun House Art Show starring Iggy and the Stooges, a month-long showing of works at CPOP of musicians and artists, and works by some of those very musicians. It’s the first time ever that something of this magnitude — so focused on one specific area of rock ’n’ roll — has coalesced under one roof. Opening night is this Saturday, Feb. 7.

The show’s roundelay of guests is a veritable who’s who of the defining moments of rock ’n’ roll history, and then some. Many subjects will be on hand opening night. All the current Stooges will be there, as will many of the artists.

“Art shows shouldn’t be staid and quiet,” laughs celebrated artist/singer Niagara, who also happens to be the show’s curator. “They [the patrons] should be drunk enough to buy the things!”

Bob Gruen, whose documentation of the era was a watershed in rock photography, is sending shots of everyone involved with this show as a visual representation of the artiste. Leni Sinclair’s sensitive photographs of the MC5 captured the band’s peculiar mix of angelic beauty and ramshackle glory. John Holmstrom’s undervalued cartoons in his genre-defining PUNK magazine looked as much like the music sounded as anything committed to page. You will be able to see originals by all these artists.

Iggy Pop — whose forays into painting blur the lines between abstraction and representation — will be on hand to reveal 10 of his works, including a self-portrait, and his visual renderings of Stooges’ skinsman Scott Asheton and guitarist Ron Asheton. The latter Asheton will show his portrait of deceased Stooges bassist Dave Alexander. Each of Iggy’s works will carry a starting price tag of $2,500. We predict that all of it will move.

And the point of the show? Niagara laughs and says, “What’s the point of any of this? If anything, it’ll be interesting to see the Stooges in another venue, up close and personal.”

“I don’t think of this show as nostalgia,” asserts Niagara. Her point may be debatable, but she makes it with the observation that “Iggy and the Stooges never sounded better when they played here last year. It’s amazing that they had that power. So how can it be nostalgia?”

Many of the people involved are, in fact, those who helped define a musical generation, gave face and image (and sound) to the world, and are now iconic representations of a life-changing cultural force.

Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh is contributing a painting. Detroiter Jerry Vile is adding his “Black Eminem” and “The Lost Supper” (the latter a Kid Rock satire — which, according to Vile, Kid Rock “more or less stole” for a stage backdrop). Also included in the show are three of Joey Ramone’s original crude sketches from PUNK (including one of Stooges A&R exec Danny Fields at Elektra Records), a joint piece by the late Dee Dee Ramone and Arturo Vega, works by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon and the Melvins’ King Buzzo, the Vagina Series photos by Kembra Pfahler of the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, rock photos by Robert Alford and Creem’s Robert Matheu, and Lou Reed’s original speed-addled rapidographs done when he was in the studio making Metal Machine Music (which also originally appeared in PUNK).

Niagara and Royal Oak metal design house Padded Cell have collaborated on a number of objects, including a custom Stooges aluminum Tommy gun. Niagara is showing one of her paintings and the original poster art for the exhibition.

The genesis for the Fun House jamboree? According to Niagara, it was the titanic Iggy and the Stooges reunion show last summer. The band will be in town recording demos and a tribute song, so the timing was perfect.

“Iggy and Ronnie were so into doing this show,” she says, “that I almost had to talk them out of it.”

Expect an exhibit that is equal parts historical retrospective and kitsch-art wonderland. It ain’t gonna be Egon Schelle or Kadinsky, but expect loads of humor, mockery, vanity, cynicism, junk and haywire libido, and a strange sense of optimism and disjointed vulgarity — just like the Stooges’ own Fun House.

Of the actual contemporary art on display, Niagara says, offering a kind of disclaimer, “You buy it [the art] for who they are and what they’ve done musically.”

What follows are profiles of Ron Asheton, Leni Sinclair and John Holmstrom, all of whom will present work at the show.


The Iggy and the Stooges Fun House Art Show runs from Feb. 7-March 2 at CPOP gallery (4160 Woodward Ave., Detroit). The show opens Saturday, Feb. 7, at 8 p.m. with a live performance by the Demolition Doll Rods. Call 313-833-9901 for information.


Read more about the featured artists:

Ron Asheton: "I have so much fun doing it."
By Brian Smith

John Holmstrom: Floating in a bottle of formaldehyde
By Jeffrey Morgan

Leni Sinclair: Rock photography's overlooked grand matriarch
By Chris Handyside

Brian Smith is the music editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].