‘Pump Me Up’: Go-go best and brightest posters at the Corcoran Gallery of Art

The telephone poles on New York Avenue used to rustle with fluorescent foliage — electric reds and nuclear yellows shouting at your eyes. “RARE ESSENCE.” “E.U.” “HOT, COLD, SWEAT.” “A SHOW YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS!!!” In the ’80s and ’90s, these were concert posters you simply couldn’t miss. They were the prime publicity tools for Washington’s thriving go-go scene and they were conceived at Globe Poster Printing Corp., the fabled 81-year-oldBaltimore press that brothers Bob and Frank Cicero finally lost to the recession in 2010. Dozens upon dozens of Globe posters will coat the walls the Corcoran Gallery of Art this month as a part of “Pump Me Up: D.C. Subculture of the 1980s,” an exhibition commemorating the graffiti, go-go and hardcore punk scenes native to the District. “Globe was the original street art of D.C.,” says Roger Gastman, the show’s curator. “Nobody else was giving go-go a visual identity.”

Former go-go promoter Ken “IcyIce” Moore certainly did his part to bolster that identity. Between 1988 and 1996, Moore says, he hung up around 1,000 Day-Glo posters in the streets of Washington each week — 400,000-ish posters in all.

“Every telephone pole at every major intersection would be draped with Globe posters,” Moore says. “It was part of a routine, or a ritual, really. When you put the poster up, that made [the concert] official.”

But Globe posters weren’t just night-life hype pressed onto cardboard. Over time, they came to exist in opposition to the khaki sterility of official Washington, drawing a line between the local and the federal. They became an emblem of go-go’s refusal to be marginalized, a scene literally declaring its visibility on every street corner.

“They glowed in the daytime, so they seemed to be rivaling the monuments, those things that glow at night,” says Thomas Sayers Ellis, a Washington-born author who has memorialized the posters in his poetry. “They had to compete.”

But eventually, they lost.

MPD began leaning hard on go-go promoters in the late ’90s, doling out big fines to anyone caught stapling posters to tree trunks, or light poles, or street signs, or boarded-up storefronts. The cops wrote out the tickets faster than Globe could print the posters. The fines kept adding up. The posters started coming down.

The city’s true colors

They were as gorgeous as they were legible. Who-what-when-wheres you could spot from a block away and read from across the street.

Bands’ names were printed in black capital letters on dazzling blocks of color, stacked like layers of radioactive wedding cake, providing a coded guide to the scene’s hierarchy.

“Everybody on the bottom wants to get to the top,” says Bob Cicero, a man who spent 48 years producing enough of these beauties to see Day-Glo inside his eyelids.

Cicero didn’t invent Globe’s aesthetic vocabulary, though. That would be the late Harry Knorr, Globe’s in-house graphic designer who started using Day-Glo inks in the ’50s, when the Ciceros’ father, the late Joe Sr., was still working at the shop.

Source : washingtonpost[dot]com


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