At a time when many musicians’ publicity efforts begin and end with Facebook, gig posters might seem to be obsolete. But they’re still produced, often with a care that suggests they’re designed to be collector’s items. Among the highlights of “Permanent Summer,” the array of screen prints and illustrations at Civilian Art Projects, are promo pieces for such indie-rock acts as Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin. Indeed, Michelle Cable, whose Panache Booking schedules such performers, is one of the show’s curators. (The others are Rob Corradetti of Killer Acid, which markets posters, T-shirts and “other psychedelic ephemera,” and Mike Zimmerman; both Corradetti and Zimmerman are also featured artists.)
Yet what links these colorful, irreverent pieces is not function but sensibility. Whether they’re mass-produced and businesslike or one-of-a-kind and personal, the images draw from such playfully scary commercial-art traditions as sci-fi paperbacks, tough-guy fiction, ’50s-horror and ’60s-underground comics, acid- and punk-rock posters and record sleeves, and Japanese manga and anime. Many of the 30 artists or design firms represented here were influenced by David Sandlin, the pulp-happy illustrator who teaches at New York’s School of Visual Arts. But the raw ingredients for their styles are widely available, from newsstands and used-book stores to billboards and fast-food eateries.
“Permanent Summer” includes flawlessly rendered and impeccably retro posters by Maryland’s El Jefe Design, as well as some offhand sketches on lined notebook sheets. Most are works on paper, but Bert Bergen has transferred his line drawings to pieces of shaped, black-veneered wood. There’s even, among all this brazenly representational imagery, an abstraction: Maya Hayuk’s elegant monoprint, “Color Test #1.”
Whatever form they take, these pictures are heavily reliant on received ideas and established forms. But then indie-rock poster-makers and latter-day psychedelic visionaries are hardly the only artists facing that quandary these days.
On view through Sept. 7 at Civilian Art Projects, 1019 7th St NW; 202-607-3804; www.civilianartprojects.com
Chocolate City Rest in Peace
Observant Washington pedestrians have surely seen Steven M. Cummings’s face. He’s plastered the same photographic self-portrait — bowler hat, round-frame glasses, furry collar raised around his neck — all over town. But his “Chocolate City Rest in Peace,” at the Gallery at Vivid Solutions, has nothing to do with that conceptual project. These large-format black-and-white photos, made between 1995 and 2005, document the African American D.C. that Cummings discovered when he moved here in 1991 — at what he calls “the beginning of the end of the majority black city.”
Cummings occasionally refers to other artworks in his titles. A deadpan portrait of an older couple with a wire shopping basket is labeled “Urban Gothic,” after Grant Wood’s much-seen (and much-parodied) “American Gothic.” But the “Chocolate City” photos are more journalistic than arty, depicting details of life in downtown, Shaw and Northeast, not so long ago. (All the pictures are identified by approximate location.) Graffiti, a go-go poster and members of the Nation of Islam feature in the photos, which have a funereal tone that suits the show’s title. Of course, some of what Cummings wistfully portrays would have perished regardless of what flavor or flavors D.C. had become.