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Featuring work by Cindy Sherman, David Bailey, Robert Frank, Elliott Erwitt, Irving Penn and more, the exhibition digs deep into the treasures of Antoine de Beaupré’s 15,000-strong record collection
Antoine de Beaupré’s fascination with records began almost four decades ago. Pre-digital; pre-streaming; a time when consuming music was less instant. Rather than sifting through a nebulous, never-ending digital library, the curator and collector relishes in the physical ritual of visiting his local record store in Paris – one that served as a bridge between his European hometown and stateside subcultures.
“In the mid 1980s in Paris there was a record shop that was selling imports from the US,” he explains. “At the time, it was the only place where you could find the newest [genre of] music: hip hop. I was going once a week to buy an album I could afford.”
Now, the curator is presenting 200 iconic covers out of his 15,000-strong record collection at The Photographers’ Gallery. For the Record: Photography & the Art of the Album Cover traces the cultural importance of album art, repositioning these artefacts of pop culture within the gallery space. The show features work by a staggering line-up of artists, spotlighting covers such as Miles Davis’ Tutu by Irving Penn, Serge Gainsbourg’s Love on the Beat by William Klein, and Grace Jones’ Island Life by Jean-Paul Goude.
The show places a renewed emphasis upon the image-makers behind the aesthetic of these iconic albums, showing work by world-famous artists including Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, David Bailey, Robert Frank and Juergen Teller.
“This cultural item is primarily musical but also political: accessible to most people and easy to share”
For de Beaupré, it is the accessibility of album art that has established its cultural importance, and this focus is at the heart of the exhibition. “For the Record is certainly a pioneer in [exhibiting album art] especially when very popular records are exhibited” he says. “Across the world, billions [of LPs] were produced, and its story is still developing. This cultural item is primarily musical but also political: accessible to most people and easy to share.”
The curator also points out that many photographers launched their careers through working in the music industry. Lee Friedlander – known for his black and white photography of urban scenes – began his career making album art for musicians like Ray Charles, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis.
“Before Friedlander became an ‘artistic’ photographer in the early 70s, he was employed by Atlantic Records,” explains de Beaupré. “You can tell Friedlander was very well integrated in the innovative world of jazz and soul music. The work speaks for itself.”
Even today, in a world of personalised Spotify playlists and made-for-consumption music, de Beaupré insists that album covers retain a cultural importance. They represent the symbiotic relationship between visual and musical artists, wordlessly announcing the identity of an album before anyone has pressed play.
“The cover is the very first contact you have with an album, even before you listen to the music,” he says. “You need to think about the cover when you are releasing an album and this has always been a fact – to me, digital culture hasn’t got an impact on that.”
For the Record: Photography & the Art of the Album Cover will be on display at The Photographers’ Gallery, London until 12 June 2022.