||Warhol's 'LP Show' spotlights album art
By Regis Behe
Saturday, June 22, 2002
There is no obvious connection between The Ledford Family's "Songs We Love to Sing & Play with Homer, Julia & Cindy" and "The Psychedelic Saxophone of Charlie Nothing," or the original cast album for "The Coach with the Six Insides" and Eugene Chadbourne's "Volume Two: Solo Acoustic Guitar."
Musically, that is.
But if you look at the albums' packaging, another relationship is revealed. "The LP Show," opening today at the Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side of Pittsburgh, features the album cover art that, for about half a century, served as a visual come-on for the music embedded in the grooves of vinyl records.
"I tried not to make the show about music ... it was a trick to try to teach that to everybody who was contributing records to the show," says Carlo McCormick, exhibition coordinator and curator. "They'd show me a record, and it was a great record, but a boring cover. So I had to find ways to explain to them it was about the incredible eye-candy overload of amazing visuals that this medium, this weird 12-inch square canvas, produced over a 50-year period."
The albums that comprise the show, however, are not likely to be found in your parent's collections of Beatles, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin albums.
"I just figured that's the stuff that everyone knows," McCormick says. "They can take that information with them when they go to the show. I wanted to show them stuff they didn't know."
Thus, the obscure, sometimes bizarre, collection of musicians and titles that range from minimalist composers to "Music to Sell Oscar Mayer Weiners By." For the purposes of the exhibit, however, musical content is immaterial; McCormick's single consideration was the art that adorns the 12x12-inch cardboard sleeves that were so much a part of pop culture until compact disks became the predominant medium in the early 1990s.
To that end, he sought out collectors — mainly artists, disk jockeys and musicians, including Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and John Zorn — who were able to provide him with the records he needed, and more.
"I went into this thinking I knew a lot, thinking I was an expert, "McCormick says, laughing. "Consistently, these collectors humbled me."
For a year, McCormick pieced together the exhibit. The final result is a wide-ranging aesthetic, with albums grouped by themes including "Smoking," "Psychedelia," "Body Parts," Truckin'" and "Sex."
What also emerged was a time capsule of sorts.
"You have this kind of beautiful 50-year art that just happens to coincide with the last half of the 20th century," he says. "In terms of social history, I don't think you can get a more compressed period of time."
Notably absent, however, are Andy Warhol's most notable contributions to pop music art: The infamous Rolling Stones "Sticky Fingers" cover with workable zipper, and the "Velvet Underground & Nico" banana drawing. McCormick wanted to do a special exhibit on Warhol, and on underground grunge bands for the exhibit's run at the Experience Music Project in Seattle earlier this year. Both museums demurred, saying they wanted "The LP Show" without any special additions.
Warhol's art is represented on two Kenny Burrell albums, which are "very much like his beautiful, early commercial, work style," and on an album featuring Tennessee Williams reading "The Glass Menagerie."
McCormick is surprised no one previously thought of the idea of exhibiting album covers as art. He thinks, that in terms of objects, future historians may not find any better way to reconstruct the period from 1939 to the early 1990s. For that, he gives credit to the collectors, who have held onto their records even though they are now technologically passe.
"These are people who lovingly treasure this stuff, who are really preserving it and really holding on tight to it," McCormick says. "They are really intelligent collectors, and when you have people doing that, that's how artifact passes through the eye of the needle into history. I don't think it's just a weird little anachronism that there are still people collecting records. These people are committed to this medium; for various reasons, these collections are life passions, life commitments. And that's what makes this a historic archive in the end."
The Andy Warhol Museum, Sandusky St., North Shore.
Today through Aug. 18.
10 a.m.to 5 p.m. daily, except Fridays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Mondays.
Admission to the museum: $8; seniors, $7; children and students, $4.