New York

Kayrock and Wolfy

Jessica Murray Projects

If one didn’t get too confounded by the math in its title, “One Sixpack Short of a Hippie Death Cult,” an exhibition of prints and posters by the Williamsburg, Brooklyn–based duo Kayrock and Wolfy, was that rare summer show that’s both concise and engaging. Accompanied by several live musical performances—by, among others, Jah Division, Tiger Mountain, and Ex Models—at Jessica Murray Projects, the Knitting Factory, and the Frying Pan, it was also a really good time.

Karl LaRocca and Jef Scharf—that their alternate sobriquets Pre-Raphaelite Shaolin and Little Giant Robot come from Wu-Tang Clan’s online nickname generator hints at their particular sensibility—run a small nonprofit silk-screen and design shop that turns out rock posters, album covers, artists’ editions, and T-shirts (most visibly those emblazoned with the unequivocal slogan FUCK BUSH). Sold as a portfolio edition, the thirteen prints on view were made from posters produced over the last four years. One announced a drawing exhibition, one a classical music concert, and a third a benefit fashion show, while the rest promoted single performances and tours for some of the indie bands with whom Kayrock Screenprinting has worked.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the suite was its stylistic range. Although certain nostalgically low-tech fonts and bar names recur, no signature look emerges, which is welcome given the anodyne packaging of much recent corporate rock. Kayrock and Wolfy cast their referential nets wide, drawing equally on twentieth-century art, anime characters, and goth imagery. They know their art history (and reveal as much in their titles and press releases): One poster features Albersesque nested green squares; another renders composer Sonia Gubaidulina’s face as a Chuck Close–like grid of blacks, whites, and grays. But such allusions don’t feel ingratiating; the artists do right by the bands, producing designs germane to their subjects. The octopus on the poster for a show by Trans Am, for example, evokes the band’s tentacular musical reach (Kraftwerk to synth pop to postrock), and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ tour ad makes amusing light of the international ballyhoo that attended their debut (hype the band themselves acknowledged in “Art Star” [2002], the song after which the print is titled). The words of their name, rendered as mock-monumental yellow stone, rise skyward from a stadium walled by a picket fence and are topped by scrappy cartoon depictions of the band members.

Posters function best when they attract attention from a distance, and while Kayrock and Wolfy’s work succeeds by this criterion, more entertaining are the small details one might miss on the fly: a snowman smoking a pipe in a poster for Nada Surf’s tour, or the small isolated faces of Bush, Condi, Colin, Rummy, and, yes, Hitler, in one for a show by The First Lady of Cuntry & The Cunts. Although some graffiti scrawls offer a reminder of silk screen’s manual methods, the pair’s technical proficiency is manifest in the ornate Victorian etching in one poster for the Rapture, for example, and in the chromatic range they achieve even when working in only two or three colors. Their process was on view in an assortment of test runs and offprints that covered the wall behind the gallery’s reception desk, with thumbtacks, overlaps, and loose corners all in evidence. Rock posters are usually removed or pasted over not long after the band leaves the stage, but Kayrock and Wolfy are setting new standards for a genre that is by definition transient. And with characteristic brio, they seem to know it: A thin line of text running down the side of one print reads, “For a good poster call Kayrock.”

Lisa Pasquariello