Mumbo Sauce. It’s not just a condiment anymore. It’s an art show.
The tangy, home-grown plummy barbecue sauce that adorns so much fast food in the District is the inspiration for a pop-up exhibit by Contemporary Wing art gallery.
The show at 906 H Street NE acts as a bookend to the Corcoran Gallery’s recent Pump Me Up exhibition, which celebrated the 1980s Washington, D.C., subculture that spawned a mid-Atlantic gumbo of graffiti, go-go, punk and hardcore music.
Mumbo Sauce — co-curated by the Contemporary Wing and Roger Gastman, who put together the Pump Me Up show — incorporates some of Pump Me Up’s high-profile artifacts, such as the Globe Poster archive. But it also showcases many contemporary artists, such as Tim Conlon, Mark Jenkins, Cynthia Connolly and many others who continue to ply their craft in Washington three decades removed from Pump Me Up’s glory days.
The exhibit connects the legacy of artists who made their names in the 1980s and earlier, such as Cool “Disco” Dan and Mingering Mike, to their artistic descendants. The result shows a continuum of street art and subcultural expression for a city and region frequently disparaged as little more than the political set’s company town.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum, for instance, recently acquired Mingering Mike’s collection of fantasy music career material, in which he imagined himself to be a famous pop singer working in Washington in the 1960s and ’70s alongside singers like James Brown. Mingering Mike, who has always kept his identity secret, designed posters, album covers, lyrics and all manner of material to fit the fantasy.
“Comprehensively, the uncanny detail of Mingering Mike’s synthetic career powerfully evokes black America in the 1960s and 1970s,” the museum states on its website. The Smithsonian is currently at work preparing the collection for long-term display and archiving.
Some of the contemporary artists in Mumbo Sauce have also caught the eye of the Smithsonian’s curators. Conlon, for example, was one of two graffiti artists featured at the National Portrait Gallery’s 2008 exhibit, RECOGNIZE! Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture.”
Window to the World
Jenkins’ sculpture of a street man with a shopping cart on his back is prominently featured in the Mumbo Sauce pop-up space’s window, giving passers-by a glimpse of what’s inside. For many, it’s the only part of the exhibit they will see.
“This is an area that doesn’t get a lot of this kind of thing,” said Lauren Gentile, the founder and director of Contemporary Wing, adding that the diverse population that makes up H Street Northeast might not be used to such art, but they’ve been engaged by it.
The neighborhood might not get a lot of art shows, but graffiti and other street art is all over the place, whether it’s on the side of the now-closed Fashion One storefront on nearby Seventh Street or tucked among the alleys and boarded up buildings that are late to the gentrification wave sweeping H Street.
The show comes at time when mumbo sauce is breaking into the mainstream. Long a sauce splashed on chicken wings and other fried vittles in the D.C. area, America at large got a glimpse of its pull on natives when NBA superstar Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder unveiled his new Nike shoe line in December, the KD V.
Durant, a Washington, D.C., native, gave a shoutout to his favorite color for the shoe, which was inspired by mumbo sauce. “my fav color of the KDV’s are the DC/Seat Pleasant Mumbo sauce joints,” Durant wrote on Twitter. Shoe collectors spread the word, and mumbo sauce’s street cred spread outside the DMV’s boundaries.
The Mumbo Sauce show was initially slated to start in March but it got pushed back because of logistical problems with the location, Gentile said. Regardless, Corcoran’s Pump Me Up, which wrapped on April 7, might have given the H Street exhibit a bump. Mumbo Sauce fliers were all over the last week of the Corcoran show, and Mumbo didn’t have to compete for as many people. At Mumbo’s opening reception on April 5, hundreds of people swarmed the H Street pop-up.
“Once we hit 800, we stopped clicking,” Gentile said, referring to the customer counter used at the front door. “We went through six kegs of beer and 600 chicken wings,” she added. And how much mumbo sauce? “Two gallons,” she said.
Gentile even made sure the opening night was hyper-locally sourced, buying her wings and mumbo sauce from Horace & Dickie’s, the iconic fried-food eatery just down the way at 12th and H streets Northeast. The fliers and publicity materials all feature mumbo sauce in action, with a Horace & Dickie’s patron drowning a deep-fried delicacy at the Washington institution’s countertop.
On sale at the exhibit are Globe Posters from back in the day, ranging from $75 to $500 — “The Chuck Brown ones are $150,” Gentile said, referring to the “Godfather of Go-go” — as well as jars of mumbo sauce itself for $8 a pop.
“People can go for the full experience,” Gentile said.
The show runs through April 21.