At Moore College, the art of punk

A poster for "God Save the Queen," a 1977 Sex Pistols single. The exhibition's title comes from another Sex Pistols song.
A poster for "God Save the Queen," a 1977 Sex Pistols single. The exhibition's title comes from another Sex Pistols song.
Posted: January 31, 2014

Any music fan who ventured to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for last year's "Punk: Chaos to Couture" exhibit had to be dismayed to find the galvanic youth rebellion of the 1970s reduced to a high-fashion co-optation of punk's do-it-yourself aesthetic. Not to mention that silly art-installation facsimile of the grungy CBGB bathroom.

But take heart, fans of the Clash, Ramones, and Sex Pistols, as well as the Cramps, Dead Boys, Circle Jerks, Buzzcocks, Blondie, Patti Smith, the Jam, X-Ray Spex, and so many more. "Pretty Vacant: The Graphic Language of Punk," the terrific exhibition that opened last week at the galleries at Moore College of Art and Design, is a joyously snot-nosed corrective.

"Pretty Vacant," which takes its name from a song on the Sex Pistols' 1977 debut, gathers more than 400 posters, flyers, fanzines, badges, and album art covers. It runs until March 15, and admission to the exhibition and the weekly film series, which begins with Julien Temple's The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle on Feb. 13, is free.

It's all drawn from the collection of New York punk aficionado Andrew Krivine, whose passion was kindled in 1977 when he spent a formative summer in London hanging around BOY, a boutique owned by his cousin a stone's throw from Seditionaries, Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's shop that served as Sex Pistols headquarters.

"It made me feel alive," said 53-year-old Krivine, who was at Moore for the "Pretty Vacant" opening.

He lights up when he talks about seeing bands like the Adverts and Generation X: "I had no clue that I was witnessing history at the time. The mid-'70s was a pretty dark period for music, I think. I really didn't like prog-rock and all the excesses of the era. I didn't know punk until I heard it. When I did, it opened up my eyes."

The show features graphic artists such as Jamie Reid, who created the Pistols' iconic "God Save the Queen" imagery; Barney Bubbles, responsible for the knock-kneed Elvis Costello My Aim Is True album cover; and Raymond Pettibon, whose drawings chronicled the doings of Southern California punk bands like Black Flag. It also displays the DIY talents of many musicians, like Poly Styrene of X Ray Spex and Adam Ant.

There's a wide range of arresting styles. Futuristic robot bands such as Devo and Kraftwerk show the influence of German expressionism. The art for XTC's Drums and Wires resembles an abstract expressionist painting.

Promo material for the Clash's Sandinista and Black Market Clash draws on Chinese and Russian propaganda art. And, as Krivine points out, the poster for the band's "White Man in Hammersmith Palais" single "is like a mixture of Roy Lichtenstein and [movie title designer] Saul Bass." Delightfully odd - and rare - items abound, like the fake Belgian Travel Bureau poster in which happy vacationers' speech balloons are filled with the nihilistic lyrics of the Pistols' "Holidays in the Sun."

Kaytie Johnson, who curated "Pretty Vacant," already had a punk graphic art exhibit when she heard about "Rude and Reckless: Punk/Post-Punk Graphics, 1976-1982," a show at the Steven Kasher Gallery in Chelsea in 2011 that drew on a smaller portion of Krivine's collection. The Museum of Modern Art acquired 180 pieces from that show; they now are part of the permanent collection of the Architecture & Design Department.

"This is the most personal show I've ever done," said Johnson, who grew up a punk fan in Phoenix, as she sifted through fanzines and flyers last week.

Performance footage is included in the impressively thorough show, and by Friday a listening station that plays bands like the Only Ones and the Dead Kennedys should be up and running. A wall re-creates the how-to instructional drawing included in the first issue of the zine Sideburns in 1977: "This is a chord. This is another. This is a third. NOW FORM A BAND."

Krivine did, playing in a group called the Monads while in high school in Westchester County in New York, and in another known as Bloody Hell while spending his junior year abroad at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, gathering materials at shows and record shops along the way.

In addition to his vast punk collection, he keeps 18 guitars in his one-bedroom Midtown Manhattan apartment. The commercial banker by day is still collecting, but prize objects are becoming scarce. "There are a lot of reproductions out there," he said. "You've got to be really careful."

Punk's intellectual underpinnings in Dada and the French Situationist movement of the 1960s are apparent in much of the subversive imagery in "Pretty Vacant." Krivine, though, said he wasn't aware of them when the music was grabbing him by the throat.

"It was all very visceral," he said. "I just responded to this. I loved what I saw."

Krivine's goal is to have "Pretty Vacant" hit the road after its run at Moore, and be shown at venues like the Experience Music Project in Seattle.

He's also at work on a coffee-table book.

"I've got all the predecessors, and the definitive book will be my book," he predicted, with a laugh. "Because I'm so ridiculously obsessive and completist."


ART

Pretty Vacant: The Graphic Language of Punk

At Moore College of Art and Design, 1916 Race St., through March 15. Free.

Information: 215-965-4027 or www.moore.edu/the-galleries-at-moore


deluca@phillynews.com

215-854-5628

@delucadan

www.inquirer.com/inthemix

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