More than an exhibition, “Pump Me Up” is a 30-year-old time capsule, opened to reveal the great cultural gifts that built the foundation of contemporary Washington as well as the Pandora’s box of troubles that, for a few years, contributed equally to the city’s legacy. The good and the bad — but mostly the good — are what make the Corcoran’s tribute to the era of go-go, graffiti and hardcore punk a nostalgic look back, from Bad Brains to “Mayor for Life” Marion Barry’s famous hotel-room exclamation.
The show’s examination of the District’s subcultures of the 1980s is more art than artifact, in the strictest sense of the definition. The items selected by curator Roger Gastman — many from his personal collection, others sourced from participants of the era — were chosen for their DIY design aesthetic and visual appeal as well as their historical significance. “Pump Me Up” is a straight timeline, paralleling the progression of predominantly black go-go with predominantly white hardcore, as graffiti, current events of the era and the occasional punk-funk concert link the two. Photographs by Derek Ridgers, Glen Friedman and other pros accompany album covers, posters and salvaged street art.