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LPs and VIPs LP Jacket Covers and Paparazzi Photos Showcase “Celebrity”

by Margie Romero


The Zodiac Suite, Norrie Paramor. Courtesy of Exit Art.

Long before he became one himself, Andy Warhol was fascinated with celebrity. Two shows on view this month at the artist's North Shore museum investigate celebrity and fame from opposing perspectives.

In The LP Show, more than 2,000 album covers - from the 1940s through the end of the century - detail how musicians and record companies used graphic representation to create identity - and sell the product.

But a look at the flip side of fame is captured in Off Guard: The Photographs of Ron Galella. This debut exhibit features approximately 300 images taken by Galella, the seminal American paparazzo notorious for his pursuit of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In his 30-year career Galella has aimed (his camera) to unwrap carefully constructed identities and reveal the person behind the persona.

Each of these displays continues the post-war artistic revolution begun by Andy Warhol, the audacious progenitor of Pop Art. With his own origins in commercial illustration, Warhol recognized the power of mass-production. He knew these journalistic and much-distributed depictions could be emotionally charged and immediate, imbued with visual excitement and technical excellence, capable of sophisticated humor and dark exploration.

Both The LP Show and The Photographs of Ron Galella, whose images have been reproduced countless times, challenge the idea that art is precious, esoteric, and one-of-a-kind.

Like the work of Warhol, each of these shows documents the foundations of the current global mediaplex and lifts the hood on the machinery of star-making. There is a democracy of desire in the voracious public appetite for these art forms. Long after Andy Warhol, the fascination with celebrity continues.

Creating Identity: The LP Show

June 23  - August 18

Music fans growing up in this era of digital file-sharing technology don't know what they missed: the kick of dreamy Saturday afternoons spent browsing through bins at the local record store, picking a band because it looked cool on a 12- by 12-inch album cover, flipping over the bright jacket to read the substantial liner notes on the back. The LP Show gives those generations raised on cassettes, 8-tracks, compact discs, and MP3 a taste of what is was like to live in the age when people tried not to scratch their vinyl.

The LP Show debuted last summer at the New York gallery Exit Art, curated by journalist Carlo McCormick. A senior editor at Paper magazine, as well a music and art writer for magazines such as Art Forum and Spin, McCormick, 40, says he, "Came of age when record jackets, in terms of ambition, were at their most grand and pompous."

McCormick also recognizes their power, and considers album covers  "landmarks in the culture." To find the best material for this show, he visited about 60 people he describes as obsessive record collectors and looked at millions of images. His intention, he explains, was not to come up with a rock 'n roll hall of fame, but rather to produce a history of experimental graphics.

McCormick admits that his choices were about the visual art and not the sound. He says, however, "There are times when the music and the cover are intimately bound together." One example is an album whose jacket features a picture of Ike and Tina Turner in white-face. "The music was tongue-in-cheek and full of irony," McCormick says. "Quite often what the band was trying to say on the inside is reflected on the outside." Other times, however, the album illustration was produced by an anonymous record company artist whose only goal was to push the product by creating an image.

The Ike and Tina Turner record is in a section headed "Race." Other themes include War, Death, Religion, Sex, and Drugs. Additional groupings are based on motifs, such as all smiling faces, or of people photographed from behind. There are sections on Liquor, Inebriation, and Cocktail Culture, whose images McCormick describes as "teasing forms of visual seduction."

Space Age Bachelor Pad Music has its own area, full of graphics of rocket ships and women dancing on the moon. Early Psychedelia is represented and so is Prog Rock. The jazz label Blue Note, whose jacket illustrations featured odd angles and great color-saturated photographs, has its own cluster. Sometimes the curator threw in a record cover just because he liked its type font.

"I didn't try to be willfully obscure," McCormick says. He did program a special section by famous artists, including a jacket Andy Warhol did in the 1950s for jazz musician Kenny Burrell, and another Warhol created for a recording of Tennessee Williams reading The Glass Menagerie. Christian Marclay, who is part of the current Whitney Biennial, created a kitschy installation out of Herb Alpert's 1965 disc "Whipped Cream & Other Delights."

With the museum wallpapered with more 2,000 album covers, there's not much room for wall texts. "Things become self-evident but it's not really explicit," McCormick says. "You don't have to grab all of it," he warns. "It's a bit overwhelming."

Subverting Identity: Off Guard: The Photographs of Ron Galella

June 23 - September 1

The shoe has been on the other foot lately for Ron Galella, the photographer whose gonzo style went a long way toward cementing the idea of paparazzi in the popular imagination. For more than 30 years Galella's candid pictures of famous people have appeared in newspapers and magazines, from The New York Times to The National Enquirer. In the past few months, however, Galella himself has been showing up in the news.

Paparazzo originally meant "buzzing insect" in Italian. After director Federico Fellini named his celebrity-chasing photographer "Signor Paparazzo" in his classic 1960 film La Dolce Vita, the name was used for all pesky free-lance photographers who chased celebrities to take candid photos.

The tables got turned with the recent publication of Greybull Press' The Photographs of Ron Galella, featuring an introduction written by Tom Ford, creative director of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, and a launch party held at Gucci's chic Rodeo Drive store.

Visitors to the Andy Warhol Museum get up close and personal with these images in Off Guard: The Photographs of Ron Galella, the first retrospective of the 71-year-old photographer's work.

"Ron Galella has recently been rediscovered as someone whose work is worth looking at," says The Warhol's Margery King, who curated the exhibit. King is one of those who thinks Galella's milieu was worth looking at, so she joined him in Los Angeles during Oscar week for a round of book parties and celebrity festivities.

"It was great. Photographers were yelling out Ron! Ron!," King says. Vanity Fair's April issue devoted a glitzy 10-page spread to The Photographs of Ron Galella and his Hollywood appearances were covered in the The New York Times Sunday Style pages and other trendy media outlets. Despite this attention, King says Galella was up to his old tricks during his stay in Tinsel Town, running backwards down the red carpet in front of Gwyneth Paltrow to snap her picture as she exited a Women's Wear Daily event.

Galella's hallmark, however, has been capturing the moment when the person is not posing. "His photos tell a story that's a central part of our history," King says. "There's the official history, then there's what people see everyday." Being there to document famous people in unguarded moments made Galella himself famous, or perhaps infamous, especially in regards to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who in 1975 obtained a court order requiring the photographer to stay at least 25 feet from her and 30 feet from her children. In 1982, after violating the order, Galella agreed not to take any more pictures of the former first lady, according to The Washington Post. Galella was sited for repeated, shameless, and often unnerving intrusiveness.

It's through his photographs, however, that we've embraced the Kennedy clan. "Much of what we came to love about Jackie we discovered through

Galella's candid images," Tom Ford astutely says. Those haunting pictures will be on display in The Warhol show, along with a constellation of other celebrity photos, including Madonna, Sean Penn, Robert Redford, Halston, Donald and Ivana Trump, Elizabeth Taylor, Warren Beatty, and many other socialites and captains of industry from the late 1960s on.

In today's media orbit, publicists try to control every aspect of their client's public profiles. But rather than show up for canned photo pportunities, Galella has made his own opportunities. The iconic results of his risks have become an integral part of our visual culture.





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