STONE Age man had his cave walls and Michelangelo the Sistine Chapel, but for the last two generations of artist the medium of choice has been the record sleeve.
From Peter Blake’s pop art visualisation of The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper half a century ago, the 12-inch canvas of the LP cover has pushed at the boundaries of creative expression.
Now, contemporary album art is getting its own annual exhibition, with a gallery in Yorkshire chosen to mount it.
“It’s the only medium in which you’re likely to see Damien Hirst next to a 16th Century Dutch master,” said Jason White, who is running the show at The Civic in Barnsley.
The venue will host the first Best Art Vinyl exhibition, for 10 weeks from November 11. The international awards, organised from London, are in their 12th year but this is the first time the shortlist has gone on show.
“They approached us because they had seen our first exhibition of album art in 2009,” Mr White said.
The shortlist of 50 will be announced next month and the public will be able to vote for the winners, which will be unveiled in January.
Last year’s top ten included the final albums by David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, as well as Quentin Blake’s artwork for James Blake’s The Colour in Anything, which was produced in the style of a children’s book illustration.
“It’s very democratic. You’ll have unknown graphic designers next to the biggest in the industry,” Mr White said, noting that the 2008 winner had been the 16th century master Pieter Bruegel the Elder, whose painting, Netherlandish Proverbs, had been adapted by the American baroque folk group, Fleet Foxes.
It will be featured in a section of this year’s exhibition celebrating past winners of the award, including the musicians Rihanna, Oasis, Scissor Sisters, Manic Street Preachers and Gorillaz, and artists Martin Parr, Damien Hirst, Robert Mapplethorpe and the Turner Prize winner, Mark Wallinger.
In a further section, 30 empty frames will allow visitors to bring their own favourite album covers.
Although most albums now are sold on CD or digital streams and downloads, the vinyl disc is enjoying a renaissance.
“The awards began before the revival had really taken off. Now, vinyl is huge,” said Mr White, who managed galleries in London before returning to his native Barnsley.
“Many designers have made their name by creating artworks for bands - such as Peter Saville for New Order and Joy Division, and Stanley Donwood for Radiohead. Rather than being constrained by the 12-inch format, a good record cover can perfectly encapsulate what both the musician and designer are about.”
Musicians connected with Barnsley will get their own space at the exhibition, with a section devoted to the best releases from 1971 onwards. They include the local heavy metal band Saxon and the Ulster singer Hannah Peel, whose newly-released third album was recorded in the town. Its sleeve was designed by the graphic artist Jonathan Barnbrook, who also created the cover for David Bowie’s Blackstar.
In future years, Barnsley’s team will take the exhibition on tour.