Saturday, July 16, 2011

5 Minutes With Andrew Krivine

Andrew Krivine is the curator of Rude and Reckless: Punk/Post-Punk Graphics, 1976-82. The first New York exhibition surveying the extraordinary diversity of Punk and Post-Punk graphic design. The exhibition showcases a wide range of American and British artistry, with influences that include the Bauhaus, Futurism, Dadaism, Pop Art, Constructivism and Expressionism. The exhibition features over 200 rare posters, along with fanzines, flyers, clothing, badges and stickers.

Exhibition: July 21 - August 19, 2011 Reception: July 21, 6-8pm

Q1. What was the first record that you bought and how did it change your life?

This is going back three decades, so I can’t be 100% certain but I think my first record was a copy of Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy, from the cut-out bin of a local record store. I was about 13, and my older brother (when he came back from university) left most of his record collection at the house. Among the records were Tommy and Who’s Next. I became obsessed with Won’t Get Fooled Again, and then went on to buy more Who records. In my early teens, my main bands were T-Rex (played Slider to death), the Who and Alice Cooper (I recall having a copy of the snake poster from Killer on my wall). This is not a terribly logical combination.

In terms of changing my life, I would say that my early records (no single record), affected me in two ways: (1) the power and aggression inherent in the Who’s music prepared me to “embrace” the punk rock explosion when it occurred four yeas later. As you know, the Who (and Small Faces) were the sonic mother’s milk to Steve Jones and Paul Cook, so I am in good company, and (2) I was then inspired to pick up the guitar, which I continue to play today (in obscurity!)

Q2. Can you tell me about your exhibition 'Rude and Reckless:Punk/Post-Punk Graphics, 1976-82'.

Over the past few years I had been in discussions with Neil Roberts (head of the Popular Culture department of Christie’s) about mounting a sale in London based on my entire punk collection. After the success of the Punk/Rock sale in NY in November 2008 (where I consigned over 30 items), I felt that the time was at last right for punk to take its place as a legitimate area of collecting. Punk is intriguing because it appeals to rock collectors and there is a growing awareness that punk graphics and fashion have intrinsic artistic merit as well. Over time, punk memorabilia will appeal to both rockers and modern art collectors.

I proposed the idea to Neil in late 2009, and he was personally very keen but unfortunately his senior management was just too risk averse. As you will see next week, I tried very hard to amass a collection that has both depth and diversity. Christie’s only wants to sell the tried and true items that will meet their minimum price targets (which, in the punk realm is really just the Clash, Pistols, Ramones). Those bands are very well represented in my collection, but I also love the less famous bands and I am convinced that a show with the full spectrum of punk, new wave and post-punk graphics would be really compelling and memorable. Again, Neil totally embraced the concept, but has been unable to convince management. [ The supreme irony is that, one year after I approached Neil Roberts, in October 2010 Haunch of Venison mounted a punk show in their London gallery. Haunch of Venison is owned by Chrstie’s! ] Neil and I continue to speak, and there is a possibility that he can prevail on management to approve such a sale in 2012.

In 2010 I visited Steven’s gallery twice (for the Secret Public/Jon Savage show, mounted by Johan Kugelberg and then Steven’s own Max’s show), and it occurred to me that maybe he would be interested in doing an exhibition based on my collection. Such a show makes sense, both logistically (his gallery is a cab ride away; no need to ship posters across the Atlantic) and because 2011 coincides with the 35th anniversary of punk.

Steven understands and appreciates the artistic legacy of punk. To his credit, even though the SKG gallery is dedicated to photography, Steven took the time to hear my proposal and was quickly intrigued by the prospect of mounting a punk poster show. We first spoke last November and then he came over to review the collection earlier this year. As we went through literally mounds of posters and it became apparent that I was passionate (a polite way of saying obsessive/compulsive) and wasn’t full of crap, Steven became even more enthusiastic. Steven is a risk taker, and I doubt that another gallery owner in the city would have given me the latitude and support to create such an exhibition. Neither of us have any sense as to whether the exhibition will be successful commercially, but we both know that it will be interesting and exciting.

In addition to the exhibition at Steven Kasher Gallery, the London literary agency Essential Works is preparing a proposal for a comprehensive coffee table book based on my collection, to be sent to several publishers shortly. Hopefully, we will secure a deal by the end of October (after the Frankfurt Book Fair). After spending the past 30+ years amassing the collection, I hope that a permanent visual archive of these posters gets published. I have no doubt that there are other very large collections out there, but I have a feeling that they will only come to light years from now. As you know, collectors can be extremely secretive. I want people to see and enjoy this stuff.

Q3. How is the show divided between US and UK images and how did their graphic styles differ?

I don’t have a precise breakdown available. Furthermore, although I have given the gallery over 250 items for the exhibition, because of space limitations, Steven will make the final determination as to what goes on the walls. I happily defer to his expertise in this area (I know what I don’t know!), so his final selections will affect the mix.
That said, I would estimate that about 25% to 35% of the items are related to American bands, with the balance of the exhibition comprised of images from England. The show encompasses proto-punk influences (including Lou Reed, Bowie of course and Iggy), punk, new wave, post-punk and no wave.

In terms of graphic style, without question the most compelling and exciting designs are from the UK. I don’t have an explanation for this; perhaps this is related, in part, to the very strong symbiotic relationship between art colleges and the music scene in Britain. As is commonly known, this goes back to the 60s. Pete Townshend and Ray Davies are examples of British rockers who went to art school (granted, few of them ever graduated!) and then formed bands. I know that Adam Ant was briefly in art college, and he created some superb flyers for the Ants (I have one of his best examples from 1978, in the exhibition). No comparable tradition existed here (beyond the Talking Heads and RISD, what other American bands went to art school?). Moreover, post-war commercial graphic design in England was much more dynamic and sophisticated than the offal spewed out by Madison Avenue.

For whatever reasons, British designers excelled, and because their output was everywhere (billboards, magazines, newspapers, TV), surely the kids who went on to form bands were visually “marinated” in this body of work. Gang of Four definitely created many of their early record sleeve and flyer designs, and Poly Styrene created two of the best record sleeves of the punk era – for Oh Bondage! and the Day the World Turned Day Glo.

With a few exceptions - such as the Cramps (whose early flyers are OUTSTANDING – the show includes several examples of Cramps materials) - most flyers and posters created by the NY bands are quite stark and utilitarian. I am thinking here of early Patti Smith and Television flyers (and of course, the 1st Ramones LP). Colors, unusual typography and abstract shapes really were only incorporated in promotional materials by these bands after they were signed by major labels (who , in turn, engaged the top professional designers to create campaigns). Overall, when it came to DIY sleeve & flyer designs by the bands themselves during the early days of punk, the output of the British groups bested the US bands by a wide margin, in my opinion.

One last very hypothetical speculation on my part about why there is such a contrast between US and UK punk graphics: unlike their British counterparts (whose drugs of choice were mainly alcohol and speed), many New York bands took hard drugs. For some reason I can’t fathom such NY musicians as Johnny Thunders, Richard Hell, Richard Lloyd, Dee Dee Ramone and Chris Stein were at their creative peaks and highly functional musically. At the same time I sense that they were largely indifferent to poster and flyer art. Thanks to smack, did they give a f*ck about the promotional materials? This was not the case with many British bands, who focused time and effort on meshing their on-stage looks with the music and with the promo materials. The Pistols, Clash and Buzzcocks all created cohesive visual and sonic identities.

Q4. You are the cousin of John Krivine, founder of the BOY boutique in London. Did John have any influence on your musical tastes growing up?

First off, prior to BOY (which I believe opened in March 1977), John had the store Acme Attractions, which was also located n the King’s Road in Antiquarius. Acme is noteworthy partly because that was where John brought on Don Letts and Jeanette Lee (formerly of PIL and now the owner of Rough Trade Records) to manage the shop. While it is definitely a stretch to suggest that Acme was the equivalent of a literary salon for punks, many of the kids who hung out there in 1976 went on to form punk groups. Going back a little further, IF you are interested in vintage juke boxes, John acquired a large cache of old jukeboxes in 1974 (I think he found them in Brussel or Antwerp) and for a period displayed and sold them at a shop in Brixton. John also wrote the first book dedicated to juke boxes (Juke Box Saturday Night), which was first published in 1975 and has been re-printed a few times.

Sorry for the digression! Regarding my musical tastes, honestly John had zero influence. Music never really interested John, although in London both fashion and music were inextricably related. He will be the first to admit that he doesn’t have a musical bone in his body. Fashion was his passion and focus, and the late 70s witnessed a surge of creativity, largely in reaction/ revulsion to the pretentiousness and aesthetic grandiosity of prog rock (Yes, ELP, Pink Floyd, Genesis, etc.). Aside from Bowie, Sparks, T-Rex and Roxy Music, the British music scene from 1970 to 1976 was, in my view, ghastly.

Although John wasn’t into music, he was marginally linked to the punk scene. I recall that he was very friendly with many punks who formed bands, and was fond of Captain Sensible and Jean Jacques Burnel. I believe the Damned rehearsed at a warehouse space John rented (would need to confirm this, though) for a time and for a very brief period John managed Generation X. This was when both Billy Idol and Gene October were in the band. My understanding is that Gene kept aggressively hitting on the young Billy, which was one of the catalysts for why Billy and Tony left Generation X in late November 1976! I recall that Andy Czezowski worked for John at the time and went on to manage Generation X and of course created The Roxy.

This is how John influenced me musically during the summer of 1977: I would spend hours hanging out at BOY on Kings Road and also at his Acme building on Portobello Road, being immersed in punk music, largely thanks to the records Don played in the shop. For me, the revelation was the 1st Clash LP, which was played constantly at that time. I remember at first being quite angry that I couldn’t decipher the lyrics, but soon I was transfixed by London’s Burning, Janie Jones and I’m So Bored With the USA. People forget that, even during the summer of 1977, there were only a handful of punk records available. Many bands were in the process of being signed at the time, but their debut singles only started to hit the record bins in quantity by the late Fall of 1977. I know that the most doctrinaire, self-appointed “experts” on punk insist that the authentic, golden age of punk was late 1975 to the beginning of ’77, but I can tell you that some of the greatest punk records came out in 1978. I was recently thumbing through a few old NMEs and Sounds from 1978, and literally every week, 2 or 3 superb singles were being released (a very prolific period). Among the bands that came into their own in 1978: 999, Penetration, the Buzzcocks and X-Ray Spex – all well documented in the exhibition. I also think that 1978 saw the finest singles made by both the Jam and the Clash. Punk didn’t die when the Pistols disbanded – far from it!

While loitering at BOY during July and August of ’77 it is no exaggeration to say that I heard The Clash played over 30 times.
John also took me to some of my first gigs, at the Vortex. I remember seeing the Adverts, Johnny Moped, the Rezillos and Generation X, all at the Vortex.

Q5. Do you think that the internet has in some way killed the art of flyers and posters?

Absolutely, for obvious reasons. In both music and graphic design, young people are buried by history. I don’t see how they can develop their own, distinct artistic vision, given the absurdly easy access to every punk image (and every punk song recorded).
Beyond the internet, the digital tools available to graphic designers today preclude the need to develop drafting skills. Templates and fonts are available in abundance, a few clicks away. Scissors, stencils, letrasets, exacto knives and crayons are just not needed – the discarded tools of a dead civilization. The works on display were all created decades before Adobe, mostly created by hand. The challenges facing young designers seem to me almost insurmountable. When was the last time you were blown away by a music poster or flyer created over the past 15 years? For me, the period 1976-82 marked the last great surge of authentic graphic design creativity. As with rock music today, time and again I see designers sampling or “mashing” up work/design elements created by the greats of 30+ years ago (Jamie Reid, Peter Saville, Malcolm Garrett, Barney, Nick Egan, etc..), and peddling their creations as new and original. Sadly (or maybe not so sadly), young audiences and consumers don’t realize that they are seeing pale derivatives. I hope young people come to the exhibition and have the opportunity to see the original source material.

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1 comment:

  1. Im very happy you are sharing and preserving this collection! ;-)