For almost 30 years, posters produced for Pearl Jam concerts around the world have been among the best anywhere, in any era. Going back to the band’s third-bill appearance in 1991 on a devilishly good Harry Rossit poster (headliner was Red Hot Chili Peppers, with support from Nirvana), Pearl Jam’s posters have mirrored the band’s rebellious and shapeshifting nature. Some compositions are dark and intense, others are silly and playful. One artist might deliver a piece in September that resembles a basketball card from the 1980s, only to follow that up in November with a design that would have looked right at home in a pavilion at Expo ’67. Like the band, which famously bristled at being labeled “grunge” even though the label probably applied, the Pearl Jam poster series defies convenient categorization. That’s what makes it so good.
Beginning on Saturday July 27, 2019, and running through September, almost 200 examples of the band’s rock-poster art, mostly from 1995 to the present, will be on view at the Haight Street Art Center in San Francisco. Sourced from a single private collection, the exhibition, “Pearl Jam: Live in Two Dimensions,” is organized geographically, thematically, and opportunistically. There are galleries devoted to posters made for shows in South America, Australia, and New Zealand; a wall for a collection of baseball-themed posters designed for concerts at places like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park; an area for some of the “versus” pieces from 2012; and the HSAC’s exhibition designers have even found room for all 12 of the 2XL Jumbo prints released last year by Ames Bros. to benefit the Pearl Jam Home Fund.
In fact, Ames Bros. is the glue that holds this happily diverse exhibition together. Having made hundreds of posters for Pearl Jam, non-brothers Coby Schultz and Barry Ament, whose actual brother is Jeff Ament, the band’s founding bassist, are probably the biggest reason why Pearl Jam posters are so difficult to categorize. Their work is, too. The basketball card/Expo ’67 example cited above is theirs (Ottawa, 9/14/11; São Paulo, 11/4/11), as is the aesthetic chasm between their ultra-psychedelic Lisbon poster and their Western-movie-poster design for a concert in Lexington, Kentucky. This stuff came out of the same studio? I’m pretty sure that’s the point.
Also well-represented is Brad Klausen, whose various looks are a bit more identifiable than those of the Ames Bros., which is not to say that Klausen merely picks a style from his bag of tricks and phones it in. His work is always driven hard by ideas, whether it’s a flaming fleur-de-lis for a 2010 show in New Orleans, a baseball-ticket design for a run of 2018 ballpark gigs, or an insider reference to the bronze elephants in a Portland park for a 2009 show in the City of Roses. Klausen’s also the guy who designed a poster that is on a lot of collectors’ wish lists, the cresting wave printed on kraft paper for a U2/Pearl Jam concert in 2006. You’ll see that masterpiece at HSAC, too.
Rounding out the exhibition are numerous contributions by Emek, who will join Coby Schultz, Barry Ament, Chuck Sperry, and Chris Shaw at the Saturday July 27 opening from 5 to 8 (the first 100 people in the door get a free handbill!). The show also features work by Frank Kozik, Munk One, Ken Taylor, Jeff Soto, Tyler Stout, Tristan Eaton, Brian Ewing, Shawn Wolfe, Ward Sutton, Stanley Mouse, Tom Whalen, and Broken Fingaz, to name but a very few. For more information, visit haightstreetart.org.