Following in the footsteps of earlier Pop artists’ appropriation and critique of consumer culture—and setting the stage for the discourse of postmodernism— Downtown artists played with advertising’s language in humorous and media-savvy ways. John Fekner and Ilona Granet employed bold graphics to convey sharp slogans, and Jenny Holzer pasted terse photocopied witticisms guerrilla-style around the city. Graffiti artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Lee Quinones took over subways and streets, asserting their identities in New York’s decaying urban landscape. Posters advertising Downtown clubs covered all available walls as Punk music ushered in a new raw, urban aesthetic. Downtown served as an image-saturated salon, hosting public forums that featured artists engaging in both corporate visual strategies and collective dissent.


Poster for a performance by Richard Hell and the Voidoids.Richard Hell Papers, Fales Library.
Courtesy Richard Meyers

With his torn T-shirt and cathartic wildness on stage, Richard Hell embodied Punk spirit during his early brief stint with Television and in his subsequent days with the “fuck art let’s rock” Heartbreakers. In 1976 he founded Richard Hell and the Voidoids, who combined striking, provocative imagery with poetic sensibility in albums such as Blank Generation (1976), which the New York Times named as one of the ten best of the decade. Hell is also known for his work as a novelist, poet, publisher, and filmmaker.