Punk Lust: Raw Provocation 1971-1985


“State your fancy…” reads the subtext of a 1977 Royal College of the Arts punk promo poster for band Adam and the Ants.

“Breasts, bottoms, rubber, squatting, stockings, suspenders, domination”, it continues as these visceral imaginings of sex linger above a sketch of a domme spanking a ‘naughty boy’. Here the marriage between punk and sex beams so boldly, it illuminates the intextricable link between the provocation of subversive sex, and the revolutionary essence of punk.

Adam and the Ants Royal College of Arts, London, 1977, Flyer.Toby Mott-Mott Collection, London

This exact spirit lives on in the Museum of Sex’s current show Punk Lust: Raw Provocation 1971-1985, running until 30 November in New York. Featuring over 300 pieces of lustful punk ephemera from across the decades and the globe including posters from the Sex Pistols and costumes from the estate of Malcolm Mclaren (to name a few), the show is a powerful assertion of the liberating power of sexual subversity. Divided into four sections, Punk Lust demonstrates how the auditory and visual language of sex was used by early 1970s-80s punks to defy gender constructs, class boundaries, musical restrictions, and societal codes of dress and aesthetics.

X-Ray Spex Hope & Anchor, 1977, Flyer. Toby Mott-Mott Collection, London
Dead Boys Badges

To get an insider insight into the exhibition, read an interview below with its two curators Lissa Rivera and Serge Becker.

Firstly, how did punks harness the language of sex for their cause?

Lissa Rivera & Serge Becker: Punks appropriated pornography and fetish imagery and language to express their rebellious stance. Malcolm McLaren harnessed this energy—orchestrating a campaign of provocation starting with the Sex Pistols and his Sex clothing store, amplifying the message of rebellion into a worldwide phenomenon

How did the punk movement revolutionize sex and gender?

Lissa Rivera & Serge Becker: The punk movement empowered women and opened doors for gender non-conformity.

Cosey Fanni Tutti Time To Tell, 1983, Magazine. Toby Mott-Mott Collection, London
Ruby Ray, Pat Bag and Alice Bag, 1978, Archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artist

What were some of the key moments across punk history that the show spotlights, that contributed to this revolution?

Lissa Rivera & Serge Becker: The exhibition looks at the instigating seeds of proto-punk in “Bad Influences,” the raucous use of explicit language and visuals in “Rebellion and Provocation,” the upending of the rock-hero model in “Idols of Perversity,” and the ruination of heteronormative stereotypes in “Deconstructing Gender.”

Other themes include “Art and Film,” which brought the DIY ethos of Punk and pornography to galleries and underground theaters, and “Sex/Work,” exploring the sex industry’s role as space to experiment (and a source of steady income) for inquisitive artists.

Finally, “Fetish & Fashion” explores the everyday incorporation of bondage wear, as a way of bringing the explicit and forbidden out from behind closed doors and into the street. Highlights include a New York Dolls-era leather jacket once owned by Johnny Thunders, SEX Originals and Seditionaries garments from the Estate of Malcolm McLaren, costumes worn by the Sic F*cks (aka Tish & Snooky of Manic Panic), and a lipstick-kissed letter from legendary groupie Sable Starr. The walls are packed with rare concert flyers, posters, badges, photographs, and record covers exploiting every kind of taboo.


Why did you decide to host this show now in 2019?

Lissa Rivera & Serge Becker: Punk is a movement that has had a lasting cross-generational impact. For many, it is a rite of passage that informs everything from aesthetics, to politics and identity. It is especially important in today’s polarized climate.

How does it reflect current attitudes towards sex / sexual liberation?

Lissa Rivera & Serge Becker: Punk embraces a DIY ethos that eschews traditional standards of beauty and sexual stereotypes. It is a language of liberation. The material culture of punk is typified by self-made media. Current youth cultures are also dismantling norms by utilizing digital culture to produce their own content, in a movement that has expanded the voices of previously underrepresented identities.

Patti Smith White Stuff, No. 6, 1977, Fanzine. Toby Mott-Mott Collection, London
Roberta Bayley, Joey Ramoneand Debbie Harry, 1977, Archival pigment print. Courtesy of the artist

What is your favorite piece from the show and why?

Lissa Rivera & Serge Becker: We love the personal mementos and stories, because they are treasures shared by the owners and part of their real lived experience of that incredible time.

Ruby Ray, Penelope on Leopard, 1977, Pigment Print. Courtesy of the artist
Ruby Ray, Plungers Take Broadway, 1978, Pigment print. Courtesy of the artist

How can punk's essence be translated into our contemporary context in order to progress the current state of sexual liberation?

Lissa Rivera & Serge Becker: Punk is non-conformist and questions structures and norms. These qualities are fundamental to the process of liberation and personal freedom.

Punk Lust: Raw Provocation 1971-1985 runs until 30 November 2019 at New York’s Museum of Sex. You can find out more info here

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