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Art Record Covers: 13 great sleeves by visual artists

Art Record Covers features sleeves by some of the world’s best-known visual artists, from Andy Warhol to Damien Hirst and Salvador Dali. It also includes some lesser-known and surprising collaborations between artists and musicians.

The book begins with a brief introduction to the history of artists designing sleeves, followed by interviews with Christian Marclay, Shephard Fairey, Raymond Pettibon, Tauba Auerbach, Albert Oehlen, and an A-Z of artists who have created sleeves. It’s a visual treat for art and design lovers and explores how artists have used sleeves to reach a wider audience with their work and challenged

Here, author Francesco Spampinato has selected some of his favourite examples from the book, including covers by Barbara Kruger, Chris Cunningham and Luigi Ghirri.

Tauba Auerbach – The Alps, Easy Action, Mexican Summer 2011

This is one of the few covers featured in the book that has speculated on the interactive dimension of a vinyl record sleeve. It’s a 3D foldable pyramid that echoes the band’s name, The Alps. This is accentuated further by using filtered satellite images of the European mountain range.

Chicks on Speed – Chicks on Speed, 99¢, Chicks on Speed Records 2003

Chicks on Speed is the quintessential collective at the crossroads of art and music. The all-female group plays with pop culture to dismantle its codes and clichés and their record covers, which mix photo cutouts and doodles, condense their whole hand-made Gesamtkunstwerk.

Chris Cunningham – Aphex Twin, Windowlicker, Warp 1999

This cover artwork derives from Cunningham’s famed Aphex Twin video Windowlicker, which is so memorable to me. I remember watching Aphex Twin’s videos on MTV and the joy at finding his work at the Venice Biennale as well as other major art shows at the turn of the millennium. It was the proof for me that art can originate in pop culture and also be appreciated and acknowledged by the art world.

Marcel Dzama – Marcel Dzama, Une Danse Des Buffons, The Believer 2014

Dzama has made various record covers, notably for Beck but I like this one even more because it’s the result of a crossover project made by the artist himself. Presented at David Zwirner Gallery in New York in 2014, the project incorporated drawings, costumes, and the props of a film based on Marcel Duchamp’s obsession with playing chess and featured Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon amongst its actors. The 7” record came out with an issue of The Believer magazine and is graced by a fairytale-esque drawing showing some of the film’s characters.

Shepard Fairey – Interpol, Everything is Wrong, Matador 2015

Fairey is one of the six amazing artists I was so lucky to interview for this book. I like the fact that he became known for his fake political campaign OBEY and then contributed to a real one, designing the HOPE poster for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. He has designed dozens of record covers, including some for iconic bands such as Led Zeppelin, Smashing Pumpkins and Interpol.

Futura 2000 – DK Krush, Holonic ‘The Self Megamix’, Mo’ wax 1998

Since emerging in the early 1980s, legendary New York graffiti artist Futura 2000 has presented his abstract images via walls, canvases as well as merchandising and record covers. In the 1990s, he provided artworks for several releases of the record label Mo’ Wax. I like the way Futura speculates on the abstract properties of spray painting and the fact that it is never clear what media his cover artworks were made for: were they intended for a wall, for a record sleeve, or both?

Luigi Ghirri – CCCP – Fedeli alla Linea, Epica Etica Etnica Pathos, Virgin 1990

Ghirri is a master of contemporary photography and a gem in post-war Italian art. For the fourth and last album of leftist new wave band CCCP – Fedeli alla Linea, fellow natives from Reggio Emilia, he took photos of the band’s members and the abandoned, decadent villa where they lived and recorded the album.

Chris Johanson – Tussle, Eye Contact, Troubleman Unlimited 2002

Along with Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen, Johanson is a key figure of the so-called Mission School – a movement born in the Mission district of San Francisco in the 1990s that celebrated street life and youth, mixing elements from vernacular and outsider art forms. Johanson has made several record covers for bands he has been a member of, a friend of, or that he has released through his own label Awesome Vistas. His imagery shifts from figuration to pure abstraction, as in this cover for Tussle.

Barbara Kruger – Consolidated, Business of Punishment, London Records 1994

Kruger has borrowed a series of strategic tools from mainstream media – most notably, the idea of juxtaposing photographs with text and using direct messages in white lettering on red blocks. This sparks a commentary on the mainstream media itself and its power to influence the audience and create stereotypes, with a special regard to women. Alongside her art projects, Kruger has reached a wide audience through designing posters, magazine covers, merchandising and a couple of record covers. Here, a white-collar man is shown being punched from all sides to emphasise the hidden power of corporate control.

Metahaven – Holly Herndon, Platform, 4AD/RVNGT INTL. 2015

Metahaven and Holly Herndon are interested in the same topics: hyperconnectivity, transparency and the loss of identity in the internet era. Metahaven is a design collective but, thanks to its speculative approach to visual communication, it is perhaps more at home in the art world.

Albert Oehlen – The Red Crayola, 4 Teen, Drag City 1994

In an interview published in this book, I asked Oehlen if he thinks there is a correspondence between his work and the music of the bands whose album covers it graces. He simply replied: “I don’t know. They are friends and I love their music.” This is certainly true for the Red Crayola, a mysterious collective that over the decades has featured visual artists like Oehlen, Art & Language and Christopher Williams among its temporary members. All of them contributed with ideas, music and cover artworks. Oehlen provided one of his computer paintings for the cover of the band’s 1994 single 4 Teen. The year before, he released their single The Red Crayola on Forty-Five through his own label, Leiterwagen.

Raymond Pettibon – Black Flag, Nervous Breakdown, SST Records 1980

No discussion on the relationship between art and music would be complete without mention of Raymond Pettibon. Today, Pettibon is celebrated by major museum retrospectives and huge monographs but in the late 1970s his work broke into the Southern California punk circles circulated in the form of zines.

He was less influenced by punk than punk found inspiration in his work, which is a critique of the American dream and culture through the demystification of cartoon superheroes, policemen and soldiers and the celebration of anti-heroes like Charles Manson and rebel youths. This cover, the first release from the Black Flag, condenses all the energy of punk and the impellent need of young people to rebel against the society of adults.

Andy Warhol – The Velvet Underground and Nico, The Velvet Underground and Nico, Verve Records 1967

This is one of the most influential rock albums and iconic record covers of all time. Warhol wanted to say that even a banana is subjected to a process of mediation but also that music and the rock star are sold as objects of desire. He did so by enacting a voyeuristic mechanism: he conceived the banana as a sticker that, once removed, revealed a peeled banana underneath. As long-term manager of the band, Warhol proposed a new role for the artist as a producer of cultural processes at large. Art became increasingly accessible in this way, but it still remained art – as Warhol reminded people by applying his name on the bottom side of the cover.

Art Record Covers is published by Taschen and priced at £49.99.

Francesco Spampinato is a writer and historian of contemporary art and visual culture. He is currently doing a PhD at the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris. He lectures on art, design and media and was also Adjunct Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory and Performance Art at Rhode Island School of Design from 2011 to 2015. In 2015 he authored Come Together: The Rise of Cooperative Art and Design (Princeton Architectural Press) and Can You Hear Me? Music Labels by Visual Artists (Onomatopee).

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