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Check Out The ’80s-Inspired Street Art The Hirshhorn Will Put Up Around Southwest DC

The industrial-gray streets in Southwest DC are about to get some color with the Hirshhorn Museum’s newest project, “Brand New SW.” Three ’80s-inspired posters by local artists will be posted throughout the neighborhood in the first week of April with wheatpaste, the adhesive commonly used in street art. Each of the works draws on the Hirshhorn’s exhibit “Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s” and its exploration of artist branding. The artists chatted with Washingtonian about their designs and influences.

No Kings Collective

This photograph from the 14th Street Whitman-Walker project shows a “Peace and Yoga” class from last summer, when the No Kings painted the health center and hosted various events in its parking lot. “We definitely wanted to do something that was photo-repurposing and pixelation, ’cause that was a big thing in the ’80s,” says Brandon Hill, cofounder of the art group and production company No Kings Collective. “We laughed about taking the photo out of context—it could be a protest, or yoga, and it looks like millennials praying.” When Hill saw the “Brand New” exhibit, it was his “first time seeing the movement itself and seeing the similarities of what we’ve been doing.” No Kings have produced exhibits around the word “hustle,” and it’s become part of their branding. 


“The influence was based on ad slogans used in the ’80s,” says Superwaxx. “I wanted to think about a slogan that people could relate to and begin to think of themselves as super as well.” The bold font and bright colors make up the aesthetic. “I wanted to use fun colors and patterns like that to really make it pop, and pay homage to the ’80s.”


For this poster, arts collective NoMüNoMü co-founder Joseph Orzal was particularly struck by the activist-art nonprofit ACT UP. “The way they did it, it wasn’t like today, when people make a poster for a march,” says Orzal. “I guess it was the anger behind it that. It felt like there was a sense of urgency that I have not seen yet in today’s activist-artist.” His central figure is a statue of Saint Sebastian. “He’s a re-occurring figure for a lot of gay artists. I have him in the triangle which ACT UP used [in the Hirshhorn exhibit] to represent that generation of martyrdom of people fighting for AIDS research to help save lives.” The arrows along the borders symbolize the repetitive cycle of history. “What’s not being shown is Donald Trump. I’m making a low key reference to Trump in this. When I have this flag and ‘BRAND,’ I’m talking about how Reagan used this all-American image—he was the original ‘Make America Great Again’—to sell this branding of death. It’s actually just white supremacy. He sells that as a way to disregard the lives of other people, and I feel like these are the same policies that Trump uses.”

These posters will be posted in various locations throughout Southwest, including 700 7th St., the 395 underpass on 4th St., and the area around L’Enfant Plaza. 

Rosa is a senior editor at Bitch Magazine. She’s written for Washingtonian and Smithsonian magazine.