In the second half of the 1970s, punk rock became widespread all over Europe, with sounds, but also images, clothes and attitudes. Based on a constant refusal to inscribe itself inside the artistic world, punk nevertheless soon became something to collect. Even if punk objects and images were usually valued as documents to a music scene, this collecting was like a first step in acquiring an artistic status. Only recently did it appear that there was such a thing as punk art as such, but that, to remain faithful to the spirit of the movement one had to consider art objects and images that were not meant to be and were particularly poor in regard of the material standards that obtain for traditional art history. Approaching punk art through art historical methods can be fruitful – but only if one takes into account the contradictions that this entails.
Éric de Chassey is director of the French National Institute of Art History (INHA) and professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History at the École normale supérieure in Lyon, France. Between 2009 and 2015, he was Director of the French Academy in Rome – Villa Medici. He has published extensively on the arts and visual culture from the 20th and 21st centuries as well as curated numerous exhibitions, in France and the rest of the world.