As you all know by now, record cover art has become highly collectible. The long player, invented by Columbia Records in 1948 allowed graphic artists a 31 x 31 cm canvas on which to apply their art.The arrival of the compact disc in 1982 was predicted to banish the LP forever and, in the mid 1990s many artists had abandoned the format. However, the vinyl LP didn’t die; it faded away for a time, but has made a dramatic recovery in the last few years and artists are once more releasing albums on vinyl. And this has made designers and artists return to the medium and produce many great works of cover art.
Some record covers by famous artists now change hands for extraordinary sums. Nowadays, collectors will only pay top buck for a record cover if it is in pristine condition and preferably for an original pressing. One can only congratulate those who bought some of the rarer records when they were first released as the cover art has proved a surprising investment.
There have been many exhibitions of record cover art over the past thirty or so years. The first one I heard about (and visited) was produced by Aarhus Kunstmuseum in 1981 (shown there from 5th September until 4th October 1981), which then transferred to Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, where it was shown from 24th October 1981 until 17th January 1982 and later to Bildmuseet in Umeå. I saw both the exhibitions in Stockholm and Umeå (and lent 30 covers to the Umeå exhibition) and I still have the exhibition catalogue and even a poster from the Stockholm exhibition, signed by Andy Warhol!
Many books have been published illustrating “great” record covers, “The 100 (or even 500) best record covers of all time” or just plain record covers. There have been a few good books on the history of record cover art. My favourites are Steven Heller‘s, Alex Steinweiss‘ & Kevin Reagan‘s “Alex Steinweiss Inventor of the Modern Album Cover“, Nick De Ville‘s “Album: Style and Image in Sleeve Design” and Richard Evans‘ “The Art of the Record Cover“. There have been even fewer books devoted to a single designer: Paul Maréchal‘s pioneering “Andy Warhol–The Record Covers 1949-1987. Catalogue Raissonné” from 2008 and updated in 2015 as “Andy Warhol–The Complete Commissioned Record Covers 1949-1987” and, again, the “Alex Steinweiss Inventor of the Modern Album Cover” are wonderful examples. Fewer books focus on the artists behind the record covers.
In January 2017, Taschen published Francesco Spampinato‘s “Art Record Covers” edited by Julius Weidemann. This book with over 400 pages provides an overview of artists who have produced record cover art, ranging from the early days of record cover art with covers by Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol to currently active artists including Banksy, Jeff Koons, Karin “Mamma” Andersson and with in depth interviews with Tauba Auerbach, Shepard Fairey, Kim Gordon, Christian Marclay, Albert Oehlen and Raymond Pettibon. Thereafter the bulk of the book, over 300 pages, is an alphabetical presentation of, I guess, 500 artists with selected illustrations of their work.
Spampinato must have an enviable collection of record cover art! Many (most?) of the photos are of records from his personal collection. The book is beautifully produced, being almost LP sized (30 x 29.5 cm) and on heavyweight paper. Many of the covers are reproduced almost full size.
Do I have any criticisms? The book concentrates on artists not affiliated with record companies, so there are no Reid Miles or Vaughan Oliver or Peter Saville, or even Alex Steinweiss covers. The covers chosen for the book are all art works and there are no photographic covers. there are a couple of artists that I miss: Anton Corbijn has designed loads of covers for U2 and Depeche Mode that aren’t purely photographic. And there is Klaus Voormann who has designed record covers for over fifty years for artists such as The Bee Gees, Manfred Mann and, not least The Beatles‘ “Revolver“. These are really only petty quibbles though. The “Art Record Covers” is a magnificent book and a snip at its recommended price of £49,99. So, go out and buy it! But be warned, it’s heavy so take a cart with you.