“On the Shoulders of Giants: Art, Music and the LP” showcases album covers culled from UT’s Historic Music Recordings Collection that exhibit the fruitful interplay between high and low art, popular music and visual culture. The exhibition of 28 album covers is arranged in four cases by theme: covers that use the musicians’ own art, covers designed by artists, covers that appropriate existing art works, and lastly, covers that parody or adapt art works.
Until the appearance of pop in the 1960s, the relationship between art and music unfolded primarily at the level of elite art and art music. Pop ushered in an era of creative exploration in which high and low influences melded, and authority was continually called into question. Album cover art flourished, and would become a shorthand for everything from the assertion of artistic integrity, to the distortions of psychedelic drugs, and the reversal of old hierarchies. Simultaneously, sound recordings became a major commercial industry, and record labels eager to develop their audience engaged celebrated artists and photographers to design their covers.
As a foretaste of the exhibit, a few exemplars are highlighted here. In the first category – covers that use the musicians’ art – Bob Dylan’s album Self Portrait (1970) mystified his critics, but his inclusion of his own self portrait arguably expressed a wish to assert control over his image, and insert a hiatus between himself and the countercultural movement with which he had come to be associated. In the second group – covers designed by artists – a series of covers designed by R. Crumb feature some of the divisive racial and female stereotypes for which the cartoonist is well known. In the third group, star photographer Annie Leibovitz was tapped to shoot the covers of Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual, in which Van Gogh’s Starry Night appears on the soles of Lauper’s high heels. And finally, in the last group of covers that parody artworks, the Pogues seized upon Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa for their parodic send-up on the cover of Rum Sodomy & the Lash (1985), in which the band members’ faces appear on the bodies of the shipwrecked, agonizing sailors.
Also featured in the exhibit are albums by current local music and visual artists Tim Kerr (the prototype for a very limited edition of hand-painted covers to Up Around the Sun, his new album with Jerry Hagins), Sam Beam (aka Iron & Wine, The Shepherd's Dog) and Bangaar (cover art by Mike Combs, Exuro) that includes the FAL's own Adam R. Hatley on drums. Former Austin band And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead member Conrad Keely's finely detailed drawings are shown from The Century of Self.
Exhibit runs from August through December 2013.
Photos and design by Mark Doroba