• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 1912

    Rock And Pop Memorabilia

    30 November 2007, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 89


    Price Realised  


    A V-neck T-shirt, circa 1969, with a primitive screen-printed logo of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. Accompanied by a copy of the book Vintage Rock T-Shirts.

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    Pre-Lot Text


    "The t-shirt is rock in meatspace, the short-lived skin over the body of an art."
    --William Gibson

    As dedicated followers of fashion, passionate vintage clothing snoops, designers, stylists and fashionistas have discovered in recent years, vintage rock & roll t-shirts are objects of desire. These shirts, dating from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s are vibrating at the very essence of ephemeral. They were in most cases given away by record companies, in some instances sold at concerts or at record stores. They were worn: got stained, torn, ripped, and whence the dreaded pit-stains appeared were unceremoniously discarded. What we present to you here is truly the creme de la creme of vintage rock t-shirts. That these artifacts of the original rock & roll era have survived is a small miracle.

    Old rock t-shirts have become the insider calling-card of any stylist or vintage clothing store worth its weight in faded cotton. By 2000, it is a craze; by 2007, Ebay has gone ballistic and people pay whatever it takes for certain iconic shirts. While middle-American malls flood with shoddy replicas, these original shirts positively shine forth from the inmost light of true wabi-sabi; In which the feel of fabric that has been there and done that provides that magical link to the past, to the days of cool where swagger wasn't pre-meditated and where people with that dishevelled just-rolled-out-of-bed look were dishevelled, and had just rolled out of bed.

    Prior to the mid-1960's, t-shirts for rock bands and musicians did not really exist. Kiddies could mail-order shirts with Alley-Oop, Famous Monsters, Rat Fink or Alfred E Neuman in the back of comic books. Hot Rod, surfing and motorcycle t-shirts were popular in their respective subculture, but addressing the world with the moniker of your favorite rock & roll combo was not common until the British Invasion was well on the way. Band shirts started to become available, but were marketed to kids, tweens and teenyboppers., The record companies started to discover the promotional power of the t-shirt as human billboard. Looking at photos from the great rock festivals of the late 1960's, it is surprising to see how seldom a band name or logo appears on the clothing. We think that the Yardbirds t-shirt that appears in the book and this sale was worn at the Monterey festival by music journalist Greg Shaw, but the idea of merchandising on a mass scale simply had not been born yet. There were a couple of Woodstock t-shirts: charming, homemade amateurish looking. The professional-looking festival shirts for Woodstock including the dates and lists of who performed showed up years later, whence the era-defining larger-than-life aspects of the event had taken control and myth had been made to drape flesh. The t-shirt game changed as touring rock bands became big business. As the one-two punch of Bill Graham's east coast - west coast axis of live music venues, Fillmore West and Fillmore East, commenced to gel with venues throughout the USA to create a de facto touring circuit for the music of the burgeoning counter-culture, head shops were sprouting up everywhere. There was money to be made and shelves that needed product.
    Vintage Rock T-Shirts is a book on the fascination we all feel for these faded relics of worn out cotton that now fetch large sums of money as mainstays of contemporary design and runways, as well as being show-pieces in major collections of pop and rock memorabilia. I've attempted to detail their history and diversified roots: tracing the style influences from hippie, punk and pop art. The legendary King's Road boutique Mr. Freedom's pop art t-shirts intermingle with Biba's haute couture version of the simple t-shirt. Hippie businessmen out to make a quick buck on Woodstock merchandise multiply like tie-dyed rabbits to create the multinational rock tour and merchandising circuit that bleed the wallets of young and old up until today. The 1973 invention that made silk-screening photos onto t-shirts easy and cheap, making way for the visual language of punk. The human tribe has its signifiers, and instant global communication has sped up trends to where the distance between a wild child in Naples, Italy flaunting a personal style and a Madison Avenue boardroom is virtual and nil. Bob Stanley of The London Times describes the book as "A 'Medium is the Massage' for the Now" which I am very flattered by. McLuhan's 1967 tome on media and culture is a very useful book as one reasons around issues of pop culture and high art, and how the two seem to intermingle more and more. Some think that the rock & roll bands of the late 1960's and early 1970's are the old masters of the 20th century. Some think that university classes 20 years from now will teach Dada, Surrealism and Punk.

    These wearable pieces of history captured the music scene of the 1960s and 1970s. This inspiring collection of highly desirable and rare rock & roll graphics reflects a time that seems simpler, less commercial, and more meaningful than today, I attempt to explain
    why in my book.

    When Nobu Kitamura, creator of Hysteric Glamour, was asked for a quote about this book and this vintage rock t-shirt collection, he exclaimed: "AMAZING! FEEL ROCK! AMAZING!" Sums it up, doesn't it?

    - Johan Kugelberg

    Johan Kugelberg is the author of Vintage Rock T-Shirts, a Rizzoli publication. His latest book, 'Born in the Bronx', on the origins of hip hop culture, is published this Fall.
    He is currently working on a visual history of the Velvet Underground, and a major exhibit of the revolutionary poster art of the Paris 1968 student uprising.


    KUGELBERG, Johan, WHAT COMES AROUND GOES AROUND Vintage Rock T- Shirts, New York: Universe Publishing, Rizzoli International, 2007, p.128