“Hard Art, DC 1979”: Hard Art Gallery

In a way, Rogelio Maxwell literally found Hard Art Gallery. It had been active during the early ’70s but mysteriously shut down sometime around 1976, when he came across it empty, with the sign still out front. He negotiated with the landlord, re-ignited the gallery and lived upstairs with various other young artists. Hard Art was relatively fresh, and committed to showing visual art in a non-trashed environment. It was not the free-for-all that Madams Organ offered; less risky or dangerous in some respects, Hard Art only hosted a handful of punk shows. I think the first music I saw there was The Enzymes with Rhoda and the Bad Seeds.

The neighborhood was still marginal, having not yet recovered from the 1968 riots and the tough times that followed. Hard Art was tidy, spare and the walls were painted all white. Even the floors got a new coat of paint on a regular basis. Instead of a lawn in the front yard, it had towering, heavy-headed sunflowers. The image has stuck with me for decades. Getting there meant walking along a dark, mostly deserted 15th Street with a number of abandoned buildings. Then there was the gauntlet of sunflowers that may have looked joyful in the daylight, but rustled and loomed after dark.

Slickee Boys guitarist Kim Kane put his foot all the way up on a shelf during couple of songs—the shelf was at least chest high and he had rubber pork chop taped to his leg. Kim generally seemed more than human to me, in his cartoony appearance, his all-out showmanship and in his encouraging, generous nature when talking to him. I was floored to see him just hanging out at an Untouchables gig one time. The Slickee Boys were like that—confident in what they were doing and interested in what others were doing.

The Bad Brains were running out of places to play when H.R. called Rogelio to ask if they do a show at Hard Art. It was the last gig for the Bad Brains before their first attempt at moving to New York. By then they had become our friends, as well as being an amazing band, so no one wanted to see them go. As the pictures indicate, they crushed it that night. It was the biggest show Hard Art ever did and with it came some damage.

—Alec MacKaye, Hard Art, DC 1979

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