Most vinyl fans collect records for the music – the sound quality, the nostalgic value, even the hipster credibility. But for a handful of collectors, there’s a more specific purpose: Finding Andy Warhol’s art.
Warhol on Vinyl: The Record Covers, 1949-1987+, opening June 21 at the Cranbrook Art Museum, will showcase more than 50 album covers designed by Warhol.
The exhibition, centered around the donation of a Warhol-designed album collection gifted to Cranbrook by collector and board member Frank M. Edwards and his wife Ann M. Williams, includes some extremely rare pieces, as well as some that may or may not be Warhol.
“The discoveries of Warhol’s work from the 1950 is ongoing, because there weren’t great records kept of his work as an illustrator,” explains Curator of Contemporary Art and Design Laura Mott, who designed the Warhol exhibition. “When we’re searching for these earlier works, we’re looking closely at his other drawing and trying to see similarities, like his handwriting. It’s an exciting project.”
And one that collectors like Edwards have put a lot of effort into.
“There are about six collectors in the world who are passionately and fervently speaking out about this collection of Warhol records,” says Mott. “They’re the ones who are combing the internet, looking at other covers; people searching in record store bins, looking for discoveries.”
The majority of the records in the exhibition are part of Cranbrook’s permanent collection, with several others on loan – including the only known copy of soul singer Sam Cooke’s album “Night Beat” with a Warhol cover.
Other works in the show will prove familiar to vinyl fans, who might have seen albums like The Velvet Underground & Nico, Aretha Franklin’s 1986 album Aretha, and the iconic Rolling Stones album Sticky Fingers – featuring a suggestive close-up of a man’s jeans with a working zipper – in their own record collection.
But for Warhol fans who aren’t big on music, Mott believes Warhol on Vinyl will appeal to both interests.
“There is a similarity between vinyl and Warhol,” she explains. “They both have fervent fan bases. There’s this linkage to nostalgia and this idea of authenticity – the idea of, ‘That’s how music should be heard – on vinyl.’ I think tis’ touching on something that even younger generations crave to understand.”
Though focused on the art, the exhibition will be set up like a record store, taking visitors on a chronological trip through Warhol’s work – from his early album covers in the 1950s jazz scene through ones designed in 1987, the year the prolific artist died.
The show will also include listening stations, a film on his work with the Velvet Underground, and panels explaining Warhol’s artistic process.
“What’s interesting is that (the exhibition) is also a story about Warhol,” Mott says. “Warhol himself is a popular image so there’s that recognizability.”
And it’s a story about the record industry and music history.
“Within the exhibition we trace the history of music and how it was distributed in America,” Mott adds. “In the ’50s, artists wanted to create a persona that would match the music. Today we have that more than ever. It’s really about the persona. It’s like the image of the artist is more iconic than the music.”
And through March 15, 2015, the art and the artist will take center stage at Cranbrook.
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