Article by Candice Nembhard // Feb. 18, 2017
‘Total Records’ is an exhibition of classic and lesser-known album covers from the 20th century at C/O Berlin. ‘Abbey Road’, ‘The Velvet Underground’ and ‘Lovesexy’ are a selection of the 500 album covers on display. Covering a range of styles, genres and decades, ‘Total Records’ wonderfully encapsulates the importance of photography and design in art and music.
The exhibition is divided into thematic sections; from censored records and nudity, to East Germany and electronic music. Throughout the exhibition, each record is accompanied by a text, summarising the relationship between the photographer, artist or designer and the music. With work from Andy Warhol, Jean-Baptiste Mondino, David Bailey and Lee Friedlander, extensive interest is given towards the audio-visual relationship in musical movements such as jazz, the Swinging Sixties and New-Wave.
Intended to invoke interest and curiosity, the album cover stakes a claim in our social collective memory. Whether or not we remember the music, we remember the image used to represent it. Moreover, in the age of digitization, we have, collectively, little to no knowledge of the artist who created or designed these infamous images. Despite this, music lovers today maintain personal relationships with these designs as seen through their replication on t-shirts, coffee cups and laptop stickers; a sign of physical ownership in the digital era. ‘Total Records’ in a sense bridges the gap between aesthetic appreciation and factual understanding.
An honourable mention is reserved for the work of Jamaican-born artist, model and producer Grace Jones whose androgynous and ground breaking style was cemented into visual history by photographer-turned-partner, Jean Paul Goude, to whom they both accredit their success. His use of retouching on ‘Island Life’, before computer manipulation and photo-editing software, gave the illusion of elongated limbs in an impossible pose; a classic image of the singer often replicated in popular culture. Special mentions also go the late David Bowie and his eight-year relationship with British photographer Brian Duffy. His visual influence on Bowie’s musical work spoke to the evolution of music, style and personal beliefs.
Although much of the exhibition covers Anglo-American Western musicians and artists, the legacy and importance of audio and visual collaborations speak highly of an era of music in which it could act as social, political and comedic tool, simultaneously.
Additionally, Taschen books has recently published a collection of record cover images starting from the 1950s till today, entitled ‘Art Record Covers’. Although separate from the ‘Total Records’ exhibition, the book draws comparisons between music, image and sound, exploring modernism, pop art and the mass distribution of digital music.