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Covering up their tracks

Sure they're faux albums, but the art is the real deal.

October 09, 2003|Susan Carpenter | Times Staff Writer

A record featuring David Byrne dipped in chocolate titled "Double Dipped" and the socialist-themed "Elvis Live on Red Square" are two albums that never have been and never will be for sale -- in reality, that is.

They are, however, among "The Greatest Album Covers That Never Were" -- an art exhibit of 150 record jackets whose concepts and cover art were imagined by various graphic and fine artists. A traveling exhibit, it opens for a monthlong display at Track 16 Gallery in Santa Monica this weekend.

"There was a time when you listened to the music and stared at the album cover," said Michael Ochs, 60, the local music archivist who co-curated the show. "It's a major part of American art that's disappearing. As creative as some of the CD covers are, it's not as much fun."

Two and a half years ago, Ochs set out to change that, working with longtime friend Craig Butler. A fine artist from L.A. whose wife publishes a directory of commercial photographers, illustrators and designers, Butler started making calls. In a matter of months, he had 100 artists on board.

Conceived as a traveling museum show, the exhibit debuted in June at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. After stopping at Track 16, it will continue on to the Experience Music Project in Seattle.Though many of the participating artists are unknown to the public, some of them, like Robert Williams, are. Others aren't visual artists at all, including novelist Kurt Vonnegut and musician Graham Nash.

"What happened was everybody got so stoked on this idea that they started recommending other people," said Butler, 57.

That includes the curators at Track 16, who were so excited by the concept that they approached another 50 artists to participate. Among their additions: Yoko Ono, who is creating art for a made-up album by herself, and punk matriarch Lydia Lunch, who is doing the same.

Like the rest of the participants, Ono and Lunch were not paid for their work.

"They were perfectly happy to do this for free just because there was no limit," said Butler, whose own piece for the show was a fantasy Tom Petty record called "Warming Sign." "They could just do what they love doing."

That's what attracted Gottfried Helnwein, a fine artist who created a Marilyn Manson cover.

"There's no record company involved to tell you all the things you can't do," said Helnwein, who collaborated with Manson for a cover that included a young girl loading a rifle. "There's no commercial aspects, so you're free. That's the exciting thing. You can just create."

Helnwein knows something about artistic freedom. He shot the cover for Manson's latest record, "The Golden Age of Grotesque" -- a ghastly image of Manson in white and red face paint. It was the sixth image he submitted to the record company. The first five were all rejected.

Helnwein's piece is unusual in that he worked with the musician to create his album art. Like the rest of the works in the show, his piece features a real artist but a fake record.

"We don't have any legal problems this way," said Butler.

The only other mandate for the art was that it be square, like a traditional album cover, though not necessarily the standard size, 12 inches by 12 inches. As Ochs quipped, "How could something so square be so hip?"


The Greatest Album Covers That Never Were

When: Sat.-Nov. 15; gallery hours Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Where: Track 16 Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Building C1, Santa Monica

Other participating artists: Kim Abeles, Josh Agle (a.k.a. Shag), Sandow Birk, Ophelia Chong, John Dismukes, Kay Rosen, Robert Williams, Ralph Steadman, Craig Stecyk, Glen Wexler

Info: (310) 264-4678 or

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