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January 24, 2008|PAUL YOUNG

I used to design 12-inch album covers shortly after high school. They were for a label called American Standard Records, which took its name from the ubiquitous toilet manufacturer. They weren't great by any means. In fact, I'll never forget when I showed one of my covers to Lee Ving of the band Fear and he said, "I don't know if I should play it or pee on it."

Perhaps that's why I was so drawn to a new exhibition at the Robert Berman Gallery in Santa Monica, which is dedicated to the gorgeous graphic work of the criminally neglected Alex Steinweiss. As art director for Columbia Records, Steinweiss invented the illustrated album cover in 1938.

For the show, dozens of contemporary artists have submitted tributes to the 90-year-old legend, including Shag, Glen Wexler, David Trulli, Mick Haggerty and Raymond Pettibon. But Steinweiss' 100-plus sleeve designs, on view in the main gallery, are the real stars here. Each exhibits a deft touch, whether trafficking in a bold, Constructivist style or a whimsical, Atomic Age approach.

For curator Kevin Reagan, whose own album covers have won three Grammys, Steinweiss was a master of "color and composition." Adds Reagan: "For a designer like myself, it's very humbling."

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-- theguide@latimes.com

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