I’m old enough to remember what it was like to spend hours listening to records with nothing more to look at than the album covers, which ranged from Blue Note's black-and-white photographs of intense stares in smoky studios, to the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's with its intricate arrangement of subjects and range of meaning. Now, the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco hosts a show celebrating album covers designed by artists who made their name in the art world.
The oldest on display is a depiction by Pablo Picasso of a white dove, printed directly onto the surface of a Paul Robeson album called Songs of Peace from 1949. There's more recent work by Cindy Sherman and Sol Lewitt; Takashi Murakami's cover for Graduation by Kanye West; and Jeff Koons' collaboration with Lady Gaga. Gerhard Richter painted directly onto an LP of Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations, rendering the album unplayable. The exhibit also features four examples of cover work by Andy Warhol, including his peelable banana for The Velvet Underground and Nico, and the Mick Jagger crotch with a working zipper on the cover of Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones.
Gallery co-owner Jeffrey Fraenkel says the collection is a testimony to the passion of French rare book dealer Antoine de Beaupré, who assembled the collection. "We are pitched a lot of inventive ideas all the time. This was a no-brainer. This was like, 'Whoa!' That has never been done before. It is such a fresh take on things."
One suggestion: bring your smartphone and earbuds, and if you've got a streaming subscription, listen to cuts from the albums as you peruse the exhibit. The show runs Jan. 4–March 3 at the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco; admission is free. Details here.