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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.

Nearby in cool contrast is another small work that exudes power, Christian Marclay’s glistening metallic sculpture, “Secret” (1988). A brass lock instead of a tone arm crosses the grooves of a silver-plated 45-r.p.m. record, as if to silence sound.

Commanding the gallery like a stage set is Satch Hoyt’s “Celestial Vessel” (2009). Suspended from the ceiling, the life-size canoe is composed of red 45-r.p.m. records. Hoyt accompanies with a sound track of 17 musical passages that vary from a Franz Listz symphony and recordings of tribes in the Belgian Congo to excerpts from LPs by the Count Basie Orchestra and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The installation evokes the barge that bears the Egyptian sun god, Ra, in his daily circumnavigation of the cosmos and the passage of slaves from Africa to America.

 Its equally imposing neighbor is Peruvian William Cordova’s 19’ tall totem, entitled, “Greatest Hits (para Micaela Bastidas, Tom Wilson y Anna Mae Aquash)” (2008). The tower of 3,000 LPs is a monument to three overlooked heroes: Bastidas, an 18th century martyr for Peruvian independence; Wilson, an African American music producer and Harvard graduate who during the 1960s helped launch the careers of Bob Dylan, the Velvet Underground and others; and Aquash, an American Indian Movement activist slain in 1975.  

In the second gallery, album covers conjure social, cultural and personal stories. Brimming with verve, Malick Sidibé’s spectacular quartet of gelatin silver prints, photographed from 1967 through 1973, show young people in Mali in exuberant poses with their records and turntables.

A grid of photographs by Felipe Barbosa of Rio de Janeiro, “Autographs” (2008-09), evokes the stars of Tropicália, Brazil’s liberating, African American inflected pop music that rose up the 1960s. His images show the covers of record albums signed by their owners.

Framed by paper flowers, Dario Robleto’s meticulously constructed collage of fictional album covers satirizes religious fundamentalism and other American excesses.

Equally well crafted is Peruvian Alice Wagner’s “Serie Percusión” (2009). Recreating in fabric and thread five Modernist album covers designed by artists, her hand-made collages celebrate the joy of graphics as well as jazz.

Another spare, geometric riff on album covers is the pair of handsome, large-scale prints by Dave Muller. The spines of the albums create an image of long, primary color lines but the titles are also visible, conveying the musical tastes of his family.

Album covers become autobiography in the hands of outsider artist “Mingering Mike” of Washington, D.C. As a teenager in 1968, he began a decade-long fantasy career as soul superstar and producer by creating more than 50 cartoon-like album covers. Occupying two large vitrines, they humorously celebrate Motown and RandB and work in real life too, starting in 1970, when be became a draftee.  

Carrie Mae Weems, renowned for stirring works that explore the complexities of race in America, pairs a gold record for civil rights with an imaginary album in “Ode to Affirmative Action” (1989). Photographed on the album cover, Weems casts herself as Dee Dee, a 1960s RandB singer. The album title, “Live at The Copa” refers to the famed New York club that once banned black patrons and performers; and her invented record label, Clarksdale Records, is a nod to the Mississippi hometown of many legendary blues singers.