Tag Archives: Record Cover Exhibitions

Art Record Covers – a new book.

As you all know by now, record cover art has become highly collectible. The long player, invented by Columbia Records in 1948 allowed graphic artists a 31 x 31 cm canvas on which to apply their art.The arrival of the compact disc in 1982 was predicted to banish the LP forever and, in the mid 1990s many artists had abandoned the format. However, the vinyl LP didn’t die; it faded away for a time, but has made a dramatic recovery in the last few years and artists are once more releasing albums on vinyl. And this has made designers and artists return to the medium and produce many great works of cover art.

Some record covers by famous artists now change hands for extraordinary sums. Nowadays, collectors will only pay top buck for a record cover if it is in pristine condition and preferably for an original pressing. One can only congratulate those who bought some of the rarer records when they were first released as the cover art has proved a surprising investment.

There have been many exhibitions of record cover art over the past thirty or so years. The first one I heard about (and visited) was produced by Aarhus Kunstmuseum in 1981 (shown there from 5th September until 4th October 1981), which then transferred to Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, where it was shown from 24th October  1981 until 17th January 1982 and later to Bildmuseet in Umeå. I saw both the exhibitions in Stockholm and Umeå (and lent 30 covers to the Umeå exhibition) and I still have the exhibition catalogue and even a poster from the Stockholm exhibition, signed by Andy Warhol!

Many books have been published illustrating “great” record covers, “The 100 (or even 500) best record covers of all time” or just plain record covers. There have been a few good books on the history of record cover art. My favourites are Steven Heller‘s, Alex Steinweiss‘ & Kevin Reagan‘s “Alex Steinweiss Inventor of the Modern Album Cover“, Nick De Ville‘s “Album: Style and Image in Sleeve Design” and Richard Evans‘ “The Art of the Record Cover“. There have been even fewer books devoted to a single designer: Paul Maréchal‘s pioneering “Andy Warhol–The Record Covers 1949-1987. Catalogue Raissonné” from 2008 and updated in 2015 as “Andy Warhol–The Complete Commissioned Record Covers 1949-1987” and, again, the “Alex Steinweiss Inventor of the Modern Album Cover” are wonderful examples. Fewer books focus on the artists behind the record covers.

In January 2017, Taschen published Francesco Spampinato‘s “Art Record Covers” edited by Julius Weidemann. This book with over 400 pages provides an overview of artists who have produced record cover art, ranging from the early days of record cover art with covers by Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol to currently active artists including Banksy, Jeff Koons, Karin “Mamma” Andersson and with in depth interviews with Tauba Auerbach, Shepard Fairey, Kim Gordon, Christian Marclay, Albert Oehlen and Raymond Pettibon. Thereafter the bulk of the book, over 300 pages, is an alphabetical presentation of, I guess, 500 artists with selected illustrations of their work.
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Spampinato must have an enviable collection of record cover art! Many (most?) of the photos are of records from his personal collection. The book is beautifully produced, being almost LP sized (30 x 29.5 cm) and on heavyweight paper. Many of the covers are reproduced almost full size.

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Banksy’s Blur covers.
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Jeff Koons’ “Artpop” cover for Lady Gaga.
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The only two Peter Blake covers.

Do I have any criticisms? The book concentrates on artists not affiliated with record companies, so there are no Reid Miles or Vaughan Oliver or Peter Saville, or even Alex Steinweiss covers. The covers chosen for the book are all art works and there are no photographic covers. there are a couple of artists that I miss: Anton Corbijn has designed loads of covers for U2 and Depeche Mode that aren’t purely photographic. And there is Klaus Voormann who has designed record covers for over fifty years for artists such as The Bee Gees, Manfred Mann and, not least The Beatles‘ “Revolver“. These are really only petty quibbles though. The “Art Record Covers” is a magnificent book and a snip at its recommended price of £49,99. So, go out and buy it! But be warned, it’s heavy so take a cart with you.

 

 

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TOTAL RECORDS – Photography and the Art of the Album Cover.

I just found out that I had missed yet another major exhibition of record cover art, this time in Arles in southwest France. The exhibition, called “Total Records” was first presented at Les Rencontres d’Arles from June to September 2015 and is said to be travelling round France. The exhibition catalogue has just (October 2016) been published as a free-standing book also called “TOTAL RECORDS – Photography and the Art of the Album Cover”.

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The cover of the “Total Records” book.

I bought the 448 page book as it promised an introduction to how photographers and the record covers they took photographs for came together. However, the short introduction in English at the start of the book doesn’t live up to the promise. You have to turn to the end of the book for the full stories but, unfortunately for me, this section is only in French. Quelle horreur! Zut alors! and all that.

The book is divided into twenty-five “chapters”, some devoted to a single photographer and others more thematic with titles such as “Below the Belt” and “B-side America: Riverside, Bluesville and Yazoo”. There is a section called “Photo-Copy” which shows how some cover art has spawned plagiarism (The Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers“, The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band“.)

But the photographs are great. Most pages picture a single cover. Not surprisingly, as the exhibition is French, there are many French covers. Johnny Halliday and Sylvie Vartan figure prominently alongside less well known French artists including a lovely cover of Catherine Deneuve’s “Souviens-toi de M’Oublier” with cover photo by Helmut Newton. There are also Newton’s photographs on the cover of Sylvie Vartan’s album “Au palais des congress“.

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The first cover pictured in the book is Alex Steiweiss’ “Smash Song Hits by Rodgers and Hart“–Steinweiss’ first picture cover for Columbia Records from 1940.

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Alex Steinweiss first picture cover for Columbia Records “Smash Song Hits by Rodgers & Hart” from 1940.

The first two chapters in the book, “The Sound I Saw” and “Aural Reappropriation” act as an introduction to the variety of photographs in record cover art and include covers by a multitude of photographers and make up nearly 30% of the book. These include cover photos by Andy Warhol (“This Is John Wallowitch“),  Nobuyoshi Araki  (Björk’s “Enjoy” and “Possibly Maybe” and Mango Delight’s “Conglomerate of Crazy Souls“), Annie Liebowitz (Cyndi Lauper’s “Change of Heart“, John Lennon’s “Interview Disc” and The Jim Carroll Band’s “Dry Dreams“), Herb Ritts (John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John “Two of a Kind” and Madonna’s “True Blue“). There is even Arthur Doyle’s “No More Crazy Women” with its Cindy Sherman cover photo (see my previous post on Cindy Sherman’s record cover art). Robert Mapplethorpe is represented with the classic Patti Smith cover for “Horses“, Taj Mahal’s “Taj” and Laurie Anderson’s “Strange Angels“.

Following these introductory chapters are sections/chapters devoted to individual photographers. First off are Jean-Paul Goude and Anton Corbijn. Corbijn is, of course, well known for his covers for Depeche Mode and U2. Jean-Paul Goude is best known for his cover photos of Grace Jones and eight of them are pictured in the book. It is a selection of Corbijns photos for U2 that are featured–mainly from the “Joshua Tree” sessions.

Next are eight of Jean-Baptiste Mondino’s covers, including covers of albums by Madonna, Björk, The Eurythmics and Prince.

The chapter after is reserved for Andy Warhol’s photographic covers. “This Is John Wallowitch” appeared in the first section of the book and this section includes the covers for “The Velvet Underground & Nico“, Miguel Bose’ s “Milano/Madrid“, Paul Anka’s “The Painter“, “Silk Electric” by Diana Ross and the cover of the “Muscles” single from the album and finishing with the cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Love You Live” album with a page devoted to the polaroid pictures  on which Warhol based the cover design. “Sticky Fingers“, the other Stones album Warhol designed, appears in the section Photo-Copy along with several pastiches.Obviously, in a book on the photography and the art of the album cover, I wouldn’t expect any of Warhol’s graphic covers to be included–and there aren’t any, with the possible exception of “The Velvet Underground & Nico” cover. I’m not sure how much photography was involved. Did Warhol actually photograph the famous banana?

More chapters are devoted to the work of David Bailey (more Rolling Stones covers), Lucien Clergue And Lee Friedlander’s photography for jazz artists on the Atlantic label. The jazz theme is logically continued with a chapter devoted to some of the Blue Note label’s photographic covers with photography by Frank Wolf. And the label theme continues with a chapter on covers from the ECM label photographed by a variety of photographers. Other labels highlighted include Brazil’s Elena Records, ESP-dosc and a chapter devoted to the American Bluesville, Riverside & Yazoo labels before moving on to a chapter of Hipgnosis designs including the usual Pink Floyd covers (but happily, not the “Dark Side of the Moon” cover which I feel has become a cliché).

In the next chapter, aptly titled “Transartistic” there are covers by Robert Rauschenberg (Talking Heads’ “Speaking in Tongues”), Paul Bley (“Paul Bley Quintet“) and Andy Warhol’s “Index” book with the Lou Reed flexidisc. Even Jeff Koons’ cover for Lady Gaga’s “Artpop” and Damien Hirst’s cover for Dave Stewart’s “Greetings From the Gutter” are included.

One of the best chapters is entitled “Propaganda and Slogans” which includes thirty eight covers ranging from the clenched fist on the cover of The BlackVoices album “On the Streets in Watts” to Rage Against the Machines album with the self-imolating buddhist monk on the cover.From this provocative chapter with covers portraying Che Guevara, Charles de Gaulle,Malcolm X and Martin Luther King the book goes “Below the Belt2 with a selection of “racier” covers such as The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s ” Electric Ladyland” (The British cover with the nude models photographed by David Montgomery), Roxy Music’s “County Life” and more Rolling Stones in the form of both versions of the “Beggars Banquet” cover (the originally released version with the white cover which simply stated the group’s name and the record’s title as well as the version The Stones originally wanted with the lavatory interior scene, first released in 1986.

The final three chapters, “A life on Vinyl:David Bowie and Johnny Halliday”, “Word and Image” with many spoken word albums (Allen Ginsberg, Albert Camus, Jack Kerouac, etc.) and “from Grain to Groove”, a homage to the Soundtrack album cover, round off this nice book.

I think this is one of the nicest books on record cover design which I will keep alongside Alex Steinweiss’ “The Inventor of the Modern Record Cover“, Nick de Ville’s “Album: Classic Sleeve Design–Style and Image in Sleeve Design” and Richard Evan’s “The Art of the Album Cover“. I would have been thrilled to see the exhibition and have been able to see the covers full size. But the covers in “Total Records” are beautifully photographed by Romain Riviere and do them justice.