Johan Kugelberg

Art is Alive catches up with Johan Kugelberg, author and curator with over twenty books and forty exhibits under his belt including The Velvet Underground: A New York Art and Punk: An Aesthetic, on God Save Sex Pistols published by Rizzoli with special limited deluxe and ultra editions released by brand new NYC publishing firm Anthology Editions.

Johan has exhibited internationally and been published by Rizzoli, Four Corners, Zero Books, and Vice Books. A music expert, Kugelberg created the Hip Hop History Archive at Cornell University, which contains over 16,000 cultural artifacts. Kugelberg also teaches at Yale, Cornell, and University of Virginia.

Published to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Sex Pistols iconic first record release ‘Anarchy in the UK,’ God Save Sex Pistols, edited with author Jon Savage and Sex Pistols premiere archivist Glenn Terry draws on an unprecedented wealth of material, imagery, from McLaren’s handwritten letters to never-before-seen photographs of the band, Jamie Reid’s iconic album artwork, visual materials, and a range of ephemera from concert tickets to fanzines, to produce the most comprehensive visual history of the band and to understand how the movement started with the Sex Pistols at its forefront.

How did you approach the making of God Save Sex Pistols?
I approach all my books as a fan and a historian. It is usually intertwined. I think enthusiasm is a truly potent fuel. When you are building a visual narrative, and you are trying to accomplish something historically sound but also poetic and kind of like a drift, like Jonas Mekas has taught us all, then the images tend to snowball and their interplay with the captions and text are supposed to make you feel history instead of only understand it.

Did you learn anything new along the way on the band, the era, your own appreciation of the Punk movement?
Oh my goodness! So much! It really truly sunk in that John Lydon is a major British man of letters, how Steve Jones deserves at least as much credit as Malcolm for the punk iconoclast stance, how Matlock had and has an inherent understanding of style and how Paul Cook is probably the only funky drummer to come out of punk.

It is also amazing to consider the absolutely gray event horizon of mainstream mid seventies culture and how insanely difficult it must have been to stick out like the OG punks did.

Jon (Savage) and I also keep returning to how brilliant the music itself is. The Sex Pistols shred is up there with The Stooges, CCR or Who’s Next Who. Listen to ‘Satellite’.

Do you think such a movement or band could exist in 2016?
In our previous book ‘Punk – An Aesthetic’ we talk about punk as the last macrotribe, and how it has transformed means that it is now just a rolling sticky ball of code. I do think there is a global movement that simultaneously functions as mainstream swill and powerful grassroots culture: it is called hip hop.

What are the remnants of the movement in London or in the world today?
I think it is that the self starter impulse can be taken completely for granted by young people. To get on with it and do it yourself.

Was it hard to select the images for the book and which one is your favourite and why?
Crazy difficult. We literally had ten pictures we couldn’t fit for each one that made the cut.
I love the first poster, with Brent Ford and the Nylons!

What’s your next project and who else, other personalities, celebrities would you want to explore?
It sure would feel good to do books on the Cramps and on Suicide.

Were the remaining members of the Sex Pistols involved in the book?
Nope! The book is 100% unauthorized

Image: © GOD SAVE SEX PISTOLS edited by Johan Kugelberg with Jon Savage and Glenn Terry, published by Rizzoli, special edition released by Anthology Editions.