by Natasha Walters
The Goldstein Museum on the U of M’s St. Paul campus is hosting a survey of record covers now through April called Hip Art That’s Square. The show gives the today’s media-saturated music buff broad access to how the record industry looked when it was born and chronicles images through modern times. Ranging from contemplative to outrageous, mainstream to subversive, this exhibit of popular art gives both the die-hard fan and the casual listener something to talk about. In the classic crossover between marketing and art, Hip Art That’s Square offers us a field trip back in time.
The exhibit begins with 78-rpm covers and their characteristic two-toned colors
(in those days record companies often didn’t have enough money for full
color), but soon swings into the psychedelic era and a competition for the most
extreme album cover—from censored material to funky fold-outs.
the most novel items in the exhibit are from little-known Vogue picture records.
Produced for only one year after WWII, these 10-inch records claimed to be both
warp-proof and unbreakable. Vogue printed images directly onto the record itself,
simulating a round canvas. With sentimental titles like “Who’s Gonna
Kiss You When I’m Gone” (by the Down Homers) or “You Took
Advantage of Me” (by Marion Mann,) these records depict a mood sickly
sweet and sometimes with a twist—the latter album includes a pair of heart-shaped
Part of the show is a mosaic of pop idols that resembles contemporary celebrity
magazine covers, and in one section, visual artists team up with musicians and
writers. Everyone’s probably seen Andy Warhol’s classic pop rendering
of the signed banana on the Velvet Underground album. But did you know that
Jim Dine collaborated with Rory McEwen on a record of artwork, songs, poems
and prints? Or that beat icon Allen Ginsberg recorded an album of 20th century
American narrative poems?
Glass cases in the center of the room hold propped-up covers cast in a convincingly
architectural style. The display encourages the viewer to see record covers
not only as two-dimensional objects, but as tactile, even interactive, three-dimensional
work. One display shows a do-it-yourself spaceship once housed in the thin sleeve
of an album. In another, star-shaped 3-D glasses stand atop their case, inviting
the viewer to behold the protruding figures of rebellious rock stars.
For the design aficionado there is a typography section replete with inventive
lettering that scrolls the names of legends such as James Brown and The Grateful
Dead. Also noteworthy is the Hipgnosis section. Hipgnosis is a design firm that
won seven Grammys for its striking 1970s cover-art for groups like Led Zeppelin,
Pink Floyd and Wings.
The entire exhibit is from the collection of Richard Shelton, who began acquiring
records at age 10. Shelton believes, “One great attribute of music is
how it affects our memory. We all have songs that evoke different moments in
time. What better way of looking at our history than through the lens of music
and the art that surrounds it?”
An exhibit about music would not be complete without sound, and Hip Art That's
Square also features an iMac outfitted with thumbnail covers from the show.
Music lovers can click on an image to hear their favorite tunes, an apt and
rewarding addition to an already first-rate exhibit. ||
Hip Art That’s Square runs through Apr. 30 at The Goldstein Museum
of Design on the U of M’s St. Paul Campus, 241 McNeal Hall, 1985 Buford
Ave. St. Paul, 612-624-7434. Gallery hours are Mon.–Fri. 10 a.m.–4
p.m.; Thu. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sat.–Sun. 1:30–4:30 p.m.