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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 October, 2004, 07:13 GMT 08:13 UK
Art and style of punk's shocking past
By Chris Heard
BBC News Online

Jamie Reid poster
No future? This Jamie Reid poster is among the exhibits
The infamous art and fashions that surrounded the rise of influential punk group the Sex Pistols are displayed in an exhibition opening on Thursday.

Items of clothing and publicity posters that set out to shock the nation in the late 1970s are included alongside handwritten lyrics and concert flyers.

The best known pieces include graphic artist Jamie Reid's doctored portrait of the Queen with a safety pin through her mouth, and the now-iconic "Destroy" punk T-shirts designed by Vivienne Westwood.

Vivienne Westwood T-shirt
Vivienne Westwood's original Destroy T-shirts are highly prized

There are also posters taken from the wall of Pistols bass player Sid Vicious when he lived at the Chelsea Hotel in New York with girlfriend Nancy Spungen.

One, showing the cover of the band's Never Mind The Bollocks album, has bloodstains said to be from the couple's use of heroin needles. Vicious was accused of murdering Spungen in the hotel room, and died of a drugs overdose before he could be tried.

The exhibition also contains several notorious pornographic T-shirt designs which led to police raids on Westwood and her partner Malcolm McLaren's boutique, Sex, in King's Road, Chelsea.

Sex Pistols founded in 1975 around Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's shop, Sex, in Chelsea, west London
McLaren, Westwood and co-conspirator Jamie Reid sought to change the cultural landscape using art, music, fashion and design
As the band's manager, McLaren was credited with manipulating the media and helping the Pistols change the face of UK music

People wearing them in the street were threatened with arrest, and some of the more explicit designs retain the power to shock nearly 30 years on.

With the passage of time and the emergence of a more liberal society in the UK, it is difficult now to imagine just how threatening the Sex Pistols appeared to some in the more conservative moral climate of 1977.

Former art school student Jamie Reid's reworking of a Cecil Beaton portrait of the Queen - obscuring her eyes and mouth with "ransom" lettering - was viewed as practically treasonable in some quarters.

Jamie Reid poster
Jamie Reid's graphic art was influential on the look of punk
Today, sexually explicit pictures and swearing are taken for granted as part and parcel of pop culture - but in the Queen's silver jubilee year a record shop owner faced prosecution for obscenity for displaying the "Bollocks" LP.

All of the items on show, from band manager McLaren's first typed press release to Westwood's world-famous bondage clothes, are co-owned by art lovers and collectors Paul Stolper and Andrew Wilson.

They were bought at auction from 1990 onwards at prices that began in the low hundreds of pounds and have since risen ten-fold. A rare early Pistols poster recently went for 4,000.

Sex Pistols and Malcolm McLaren outside Buckingham Palace, London, 1977
The Sex Pistols were one of the UK's most influential bands
But Mr Stolper, who runs a London art gallery, told BBC News Online: "This isn't about the value, although of course it has a value.

"There are no signatures or records; this is not memorabilia. It's the clothing, the styling, the sloganeering that within two years turned everything upside down.

"Today we have assimilated fashion, art and design and we now know when someone is trying to be outrageous. Back then, you could get arrested for this stuff."

Looking around at the mohair jumpers behind glass cases - and a God Save The Queen muslin shirt once owned by media figure Janet Street Porter - the Pistols' clarion cry of rejection, No Future, seems strangely at odds with the whitewashed gallery walls.

  • Punk: A True and Dirty Tale is at The Hospital gallery, Endell Street, London WC2 until 23 January.

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