When they burst onto the charts after serving as the opening act on Madonna's 1985 “Virgin” tour, the Beastie Boys were armed with a fully formed style, an unapologetic, in-yer-face mish mash of B-Boy sportiness and Jewish golf-iness, mixing gold chains, plaid slacks, and cop shades, sporting Kangols and shell toes with a hefty dose retard-o-tude and flash. With brash music that over time became smart and even, at times, sophisticated, the trio of Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock not only helped transform hip hop with their expansive vision, but also created an iconic brand, one that influenced not only musicians but designers and artists.
Last night was payback time at Gallery 1988 on Melrose, where an overflowing crowd of Beastie fans and art adorers converged for the opening of a show called: Under The Influence: The Official Art Tribute To Beastie Boys. The opening, which was approved by the band themselves, features stunning portraits, playful riffs on their lyrics, and that overarching feeling of joy at the mere act of creation that has touched so many Beastie fans.
Featuring 100 artists “remixing the music, style and visuals of the musical pioneers,” the show was (in the words of a music critic and not an art critic), pretty frickin' awesome, with beautifully rendered homages to a band that helped set the tone for 80s and 90s style. The danger with a show like Under the Influence, of course, is that you end up with well-intentioned art — the worst kind — that expresses gratitude without expressing honesty. The great thing about Under the Influence, though, is that the art on the walls was, for the most part, as well imagined as the Beastie Boys' rhymes.
It was so packed at 1988 that the flow of bodies pushed viewers along the art/wall path like a current; we were carried from piece to piece seemingly against our will, and the scrum at the center of the gallery was so thick that it was nearly impossible to cut across the room. What that meant, though, is that the art moved across the eyes in a well-ordered procession.
The unofficial co-star of the show, joy of joys, was Biz Markie, who manifested himself in the paintings as a Godzilla-like creature attacking a city being defended by the Beastie Boys. He appeared in
Michael Alvarez's David MacDowell's hilarious and expertly rendered “Hey Hey Hey Ladies,” a group portrait featuring Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids alongside the Boys and Biz. In the above “Booger King,” also by Alvarez, Biz is front and center.
There are so many highlights to this show that the best thing to do is head over there yourself to see it; Under the Influence is not only a total joy to experience, it also offers concrete proof of the Beastie Boys' influence on American culture. They're one of the only bands who could make a call to artists and be confident that the end result would be filled with (high-quality, aesthetically golden) surprises, because their fanbase and influence has touched not just the grunts who can rhyme along to their lyrics, but also touched equally inspired artists in other disciplines with the ability to transform those lyrics into visual art. (You have to see Mark Brown's “Egg Man's Journey,” an uber-detailed rendering of no less than 57 different Beastie Boys rhymes.)
You gotta see this show. (Note to artists: I'd love help identifying some of the pieces shown above. The mass at the gallery was such that I was pushed along without being able to note who painted what. Feel free to identify work in the comments section.)