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A new exhibit at ICA highlights the creative art of vinyl records

Susan Saccoccia | 5/18/2011, 1:23 p.m.
Jeroen Diepenmaat, Pour des dents d’un blanc éclatant et saines, 2005. Record players, vinyl records, taxidermied birds and...
Jeroen Diepenmaat, Pour des dents d’un blanc éclatant et saines, 2005. Record players, vinyl records, taxidermied birds and sound. Dimensions variable. © Jeroen Diepenmaat. Image courtesy of the artist.

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Jeroen Diepenmaat, Pour des dents d’un blanc éclatant et saines, 2005. Record players, vinyl records, taxidermied birds and sound. Dimensions variable. © Jeroen Diepenmaat. Image courtesy of the artist.

photo

Jeroen Diepenmaat, Pour des dents d’un blanc éclatant et saines, 2005. Record players, vinyl records, taxidermied birds and sound. Dimensions variable. © Jeroen Diepenmaat. Image courtesy of the artist.

photo

Jeroen Diepenmaat, Pour des dents d’un blanc éclatant et saines, 2005. Record players, vinyl records, taxidermied birds and sound. Dimensions variable. © Jeroen Diepenmaat. Image courtesy of the artist.

A new exhibit at ICA highlights the creative art of vinyl records

The primal forms of the circle and square in a vinyl record and an album cover draw artists like catnip, along with the music on the record and its world of memories and emotions, associations that artists can harness like so many ready-mades.

Unlike CDs and MP players, records have heft and presence. Even the covers of many albums are works of art, suggesting the transformative power of the music that ignites when needle strikes groove.

My own collection of albums is small but choice — and each is a landmark of a time in my life. Among my strongest childhood memories are my first records, turquoise 45-r.p.m. recordings of “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic” and “I Wonder As I Wander” that I ceaselessly played on my small turntable — a wonder box.

The absorbing exhibition, “The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl,” on view through Sept. 5 at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, is a chamber of wonders. Like the 16th century European precursor of the art museum known as a wonder room, it is a mix of oddities and some first-rate art, an immersion into the vinyl record world that blends artistic complexity with the amateur’s obsessive love of objects.

How else do you describe an exhibition in which a stuffed bird stands in for a turntable tone arm and a display shows circular buttons made from melted Billie Holiday records?

Organized by Trevor Schoonmaker, curator of Contemporary Art at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, where the exhibition originated, and coordinated for the ICA by Senior Curator Jenelle Porter, “The Record” is the first museum exhibition to bring together contemporary works with records as their subject or medium.

Presenting 99 works from the 1960s to the present — including sculpture, installation, drawing, photography and video — by 33 artists from around the world, the exhibition is accompanied by a terrific catalog that includes the artists’ own commentaries as well as an audio guide and website (www.nasher.duke.edu/therecord/index.php).

Loosely arranged around themes in four galleries, the exhibition mingles small images by big-name artists who came of age in the 1960s such as Jaspar Johns and Ed Ruscha with installations by much younger artists who first experienced records after their eclipse into artifacts. The strongest works explore the incantatory power of records to reincarnate the past into the present and future.

Few artists are as ardent at reclaiming life from spent materials than Dario Robleto of San Antonio, whose luminous tributes to record albums and Civil War widows were the high points of the group show “The Old Weird America,’’ at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in 2009.

Here, a vitrine displays the buttons Robleto crafted from hand-ground records of Billie Holiday, sewed onto thrift-store shirts that he repaired and returned to their place of origin; matches he coated with the powder from records of Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and others and left on bars to enflame the cigarettes of courting couples; and a spool of thread from a record of Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces.”