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The 9:30 Club may be punk-rock and all that, but it’s also an institution, and institutions have anniversaries. Last weekend, the club marked two of them: five years at its current V Street NW address and 10 years since the death of Mark Holmes, who helped devise the 9:30’s image. The latter milestone was commemorated by the dedication of an exhibit of Holmes’ artwork, a permanent addition to the club’s basement bar.
Actually, the Holmes tribute comes a little late: The artist and filmmaker died of AIDS-related cancer in February 1990, a decade after he began defining the club’s look with his surrealistic advertising designs and interior-decoration schemes. “He had such profound influence on the club and clubs like this in general,” says 9:30 Club co-owner Seth Hurwitz, who bought the operation in 1986. “I’ve been looking for an excuse to put his stuff up, and the fifth anniversary of the new space seemed like a good occasion.
“A lot of clubs put up autographed photos or a bunch of posters,” Hurwitz notes. “Clubs and restaurants are always doing this corny stuff to show their history. I wanted to do something that explained some of the club’s history
without it being some sort of self-congratulatory thing’cause I hate that. So I thought it would be cool to show everybody where the club’s whole image came from. This guy really pretty much invented it.”
Holmes, who DJed, bartended, and did just about everything else the club required, is also credited with arraying the 930 F St. NW space with video monitors, an unusual idea in 1980. He’s best known, though, for the collages he created for the club’s newspaper ads and promotional postcards, which anticipated the desktop-publishing aesthetic in an era when such graphics were still done with paper, wax, and X-Acto knives.
The resulting images, Hurwitz says, were “whimsical, somewhat disturbing, warped. When you see an ad with a picture floating in the background that has nothing to do with the information overlaid on top of itin my experience, he started that. I’m sure other people did it in other parts of the world, but I think he had a national influence.”
The exhibit was designed by the 9:30’s production manager, Chad Houseknecht, who’s about to celebrate his own 10th anniversary at the club. “One of the first things I did was remove an exhibit of Mark’s work,” Houseknecht remembers, “so I feel I’ve come full circle.”
The previous display was taken down because it was being vandalized, and with some of Holmes’ mass-produced works now rare, Houseknecht is taking care to protect them. They’re sandwiched in glass and mounted so that both sides of the postcards are visible.
Hurwitz admits that he was slow to organize the exhibition, so the rush to complete it came to resemble something that Holmes would surely recognize. It went “down to the very last minute,” Houseknecht laughs as he takes a break from mounting the exhibit. “Just like a rock ‘n’ roll show.” Mark Jenkins