The Dope-Thrill Fugs

Recommendations by R.C. Baker

Celebrate Independence Day with flagrant free speech and populist ridicule of the ruling class at this bracing exhibition of protest ephemera. An example of the former: songwriter Ed Sanders's 1967 poetry collection, Fuck God in the Ass; of the latter: a photo of Nelson Rockefeller flipping the bird, which adorns the cover of bandmate Tuli Kupferberg's Less Newspoems, a chapbook that sold for "70 cents (2 for 69)." With music self-described as "anti-war/anti-creep/anti-repression" and "dope-thrill chants," the Fugs (whom Lester Bangs characterized as "not a garage band so much as a sixth-floor walkup band") represented a major fault line in the cultural tectonics of the '60s. Somehow they signed with Frank Sinatra's Reprise label, though they often parodied the hep cats of yore (Kupferberg did a rousing rendition of the "Goldfinger" theme, substituting "Stink-fingaaaaah . . ."). It's fascinating to see the men's magazine Cavalier present the band in East Village dishabille near an ad touting a swell in top hat and tails fondling a "Life-Size Instant Party Doll." The times were certainly a-changin', and in that grim year of 1968, with the Vietnam War grinding on and Nixon newly elected to lead it, one reviewer, a World War II vet, confessed to surprised admiration for the group in an article headlined "Cause to Worry: Fugs Make Sense." Album covers such as Star Peace anticipated the Day-Glo tubular stylings of the Blue Man Group, while It Crawled Into My Hand, Honest features Wagnerian costumes worthy of Bugs Bunny's "What's Opera, Doc?" Just as wandering through Rome's Santa Maria del Popolo, surrounded by Caravaggios and Carracis, can sweep you back to the Baroque era, this bookstore's walls—plastered with mimeographed flyers, loopy fan mail, smutty posters, and FBI surveillance files—truly capture the '60s at street (or perhaps more accurately, gutter) level.

Bruce Davidson and Stephen Shames

Bruce Davidson's black-and-white photos are incomparably composed meditations on pain and struggle, tinged with hope and defiance. In Birmingham, Alabama, 1963, a black man and woman are separated by the partition dividing a police van, where a procession of skewed rectangles leads your eye to their protest placard, confiscated by a white cop, that reads "Khrushchev can eat here/Why can't we?" In MLK Press Conference, 1962, Davidson conveys the unrelenting pressure of civil rights leadership by framing the Reverend King from an angle that emphasizes the surrounding crush of assistants and reporters passing documents over his head. Shames's photos of the Black Panthers have a more documentary quality—a grim Eldridge Cleaver, cigarette in loose fist, sits in an office recently shot up by Oakland cops. And while a picture of Bobby Seale, dwarfed by a towering banner that reads "Black Community Survival Conference," imparts the movement's fervor, a 1971 shot of a dilapidated Brooklyn building grafitti'd with "The Moon Belongs to the People" distills its poignancy. Aperture, 547 W 27th, 212-505-5555. Through August 2.

"A sixth-floor walkup band": The Fugs in Sweden, 1968
photo: Jan Persson
"A sixth-floor walkup band": The Fugs in Sweden, 1968

Details

'Fuck for Peace: A History of the Fugs'
Printed Matter
195 Tenth Avenue Through September 8

'Colour Before Colour'

Although color photography was routinely looked down on by curators and museums before William Eggleston's 1976 breakout show at MOMA, this exhibition of work by six Europeans amply demonstrates that there was plenty happening across the pond during that decade. John Hinde's views of an English vacation resort are as richly saturated as Saturday-morning cartoons, with the theatrically posed figures feeling almost as unreal. Less magazine-oriented is the leached palette of grays and ochres in Luigi Ghirri's image of a bleak concrete building. And for sheer narrative force, check out Carlos Pérez Siquier's blond sun worshipper, who has slipped the straps of her aqua-green top, exposed an arc of tan belly, and troweled on silver eyeliner as thickly as an armadillo's hide. These lively gestures are abruptly thrown into relief when you notice that one of her hands is horribly disfigured; she's no great beauty, but she's got spirit to burn. Hasted Hunt, 529 W 20th, 212-627-0006. Through July 20.

Stuart O'Sullivan

His wife's Pennsylvania family dates back to the days of the Revolution, and O'Sullivan photographs the artifacts of that long history with a reticent intimacy. A shot of a small relief sculpture, patinated with age, captures the profile of his wife's grandmother as a child; softly lit from one side, her face is cast in shadow. In a long shot, his wife stares into a pool set within a broad lawn; three weathered statues behind her stand beneath unpruned trees, while towering evergreens and a scrolled iron gate form a dark background. The gravel paths are genteelly shabby, with tufts of weeds furthering the mood of colonial rectitude enervated by the centuries. Daniel Cooney, 511 W 25th, 212-255-8158. Through July 13.

'Core Memory'

Who knew that old-school tech could be so hot-—after perusing this book's 150 color reproductions of obsolete computers, you may want to hang the guts of that antediluvian Quadra on your wall. These pages pinpoint the nascent info revolution coalescing around the rhythmically spaced circuits of an Apollo Guidance Computer (the curves are as graceful as violin strings), and within the green silicon pathways and bulbous red transistors of a 1976 Apple I motherboard. One fascinating image exposes tangles of color-coded wires that spill like geek Pollocks from a Cray 3 supercomputer. Back in 1968, when IBM's engineers housed pizza-size magnetic-tape drives in bright Pop Art colors, did they know they were constructing machines that would one day give nerds sex appeal? www.chroniclebooks.com, 160 pp., $35.

 
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