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Run for Cover showcases the art of design

Iconic album artwork covers Spruill Gallery

The line between art and design traditionally has been a precarious tightrope walk for artists, as it's difficult to work in the commercial world and retain credibility as a fine artist. Many artists now ignore the distinction, placing their work on handbags, wallpaper, salt and pepper shakers and other consumer goods. The 432 album covers on display in Run for Cover at Spruill Gallery are distributed among six different categories: History Replayed, Artist Designed, Art Inspired, Musician Designed, Typography and Georgia. To accommodate the sheer quantity of work, the gallery's hallway has been turned into a floor-to-ceiling installation of a mishmash of covers. The Artist Designed section, in particular, demonstrates that artists turning their hands to record sleeve design is a precedent for the current crossover between art and design.

Not surprisingly, Andy Warhol is heavily represented. His earliest design here is for his Factory's house band, The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967). The cover's iconic yellow and black-outlined banana has become a coveted symbol in the art world. Thomas Baumgärtel, aka the "Banana sprayer," has tagged approximately 4,000 museums and galleries around the globe with it as a seal of approval. Geometric slices of red, blue and yellow transform a straightforward portrait of Billy Squier for Warhol's vision of the musician's 1982 album Emotions in Motion. In 1976, Warhol drew a portrait of Paul Anka for his album The Painter. While not Warhol's most interesting work, Anka never looked so hip as when flattened by the pop artist.

Less known is Salvador Dali's design for Jackie Gleason's Lonesome Echo (1955). Unfortunately, the show includes no background material, so you'll have to refer to Google to find out how some of the matches came into being. Bauhaus artist Josef Albers designed covers for Enoch Light, but his involvement is less surprising as Albers was of an artistic generation for whom design and fine art often blended. His cover is minimalist: black dots on a blue ground in a pattern across the square of the sleeve. Talking Heads, who began as an art school band, had several artists do their covers, including Georgia's own Howard Finster. Finster supposedly hated rock music but said he put 26,000 sermons on the cover of Little Creatures (1985) (also in the exhibition) in an effort to save the souls of those who listen to it.

Local designers Flournoy Holmes and Susan Archie bring a distinctly Southern flavor to their work. Holmes' design for the Allman Brothers Band's Eat a Peach (1972) typifies Southern rock. Charley Patton's Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues box set (2001) and Goodbye, Babylon (2003) show off Archie's elegant packaging in front gallery vitrines. Goodbye, Babylon's CDs come in a wooden box with an image of the tower of Babel burned onto its top. Packed with cotton and a foldout insert of a cotton plant, it evokes a Joseph Cornell box. In her design for Screamin' and Hollerin', Archie reworks 1920s 78 record packaging for the CD era. Archie's designs are the only things in the show to suggest that innovative vinyl design lives on past the LP's heyday, but the chronic lack of explanatory material makes it difficult to place her achievement in context.

That painters can be illustrators and package designers can be artists are notions worth exploring. Run for Cover starts to scratch the surface.



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